THE ETHICAL DILEMMA FACING CONSERVATION: CARE AND TREATMENT OF HUMAN SKELETAL REMAINS AND MORTUARY OBJECTS
GAYS S. McGOWAN, & CHERYL J. LaROCHE
Our concern is to suggest how our profession can respond appropriately to today's politicized environment and contribute to creating a climate that includes sensitivity to both scientific and spiritual concerns. It is not our intention to be judgmental, only to illustrate the complexity of the issues associated with the treatment of corporeal materials.
The Code of Ethics should address human bone as a discrete material. It is incumbent upon the conservation profession to contribute to the interdisciplinary guidelines that could further reduce conflicts between professional and lay interests. Because the circumstances surrounding each site or project vary, the wording must be appropriately flexible.
Although we may never successfully resolve questions such as who should be the steward of the material or whose concerns should come first, a multidisciplinary collaboration could better address and define the philosophical, political, cultural, ethical, and scientific concerns that complicate the treatment of human remains. We can only expect these issues to escalate as the relentless encroachment on cemeteries continues, as mortuary art becomes ever more collectible, and as analytical testing of human bone becomes increasingly technologically advanced. This once most venerated material must acquiesce to the needs of modern society, as the dictum “rest in peace” no longer applies.
The authors would like to thank the following individuals for sharing their thoughts on this topic: Tamara Brey, Tom Crist, Nancy DeMyttenaere, Dave Hunt, Jessica Johnson, William Kelso, Stephen Koob, Michele Marincola, Michael Parrington, Carolyn Rose, and Rebecca Yamin.