A thought provoking aspect of life was yesterday discussed in a meeting of health professionals and anthropologists at Sorbonne University: the impact of today’s medical imaging on the social dimension of death. The routine use of scanners to examine dead bodies is becoming more common. The scanning is usually assisted by radioactive injections into the cadaver. Is this a new form of normalising and administrating life and death? Are health professionals stepping over a boundary when they routinely scan blue plastic bags containing the remains of fellow citizens? How can artifacts created by the scanning process be handled in an epistemically sound fashion? These were some of the questions raised by the speakers, often coming from Lausanne, where there will also soon be a workshop (without registration fee) .Regarding the question, if modern medical imaging is another step towards a normalisation of death, one of the answers from the audience was plain and clear: There was always an articulate cultural understanding of death. Sometimes this was accompanied by beautiful depictions, like the dogs seen in paintings of Renaissance banquets, ready to snatch some bones falling off the table. The discussion was part of a day about « Les territoires corporels des techniques Socio-anthropologiques de l’imagerie médicale et du diagnostic » hosted by the working group « Corps, techniques, société ». This group is directed by the renowned historian Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent.
If you are interested, here you can find an introductory article by Müller and Fangerau about the development of medical examinations of dead bodies and its social dimensions.