Elyse Singer

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Oklahoma, U of

Grant number

Gr. 9716

Approve Date

October 5, 2018

Project Title

Singer, Dr. Elyse O., U. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK - To aid research on 'Remaking Mexican Death: The Quest for Dignity at the Ends of Life'

Preliminary abstract: Enduring contests between church, state, and individual control over the body in Mexico have recently manifested in a series of contentious public debates about how to regulate the beginnings and ends of life. Most recently, disputes over the ethics of ‘dignified death’ have come to mirror long-standing debates over abortion. Mexico’s dignified death movement argues for a right to end one’s life in the face of unbearable suffering as a matter of individual choice. For the catholic hierarchy, God is the arbiter of life and death and euthanasia constitutes a mortal sin (Lamas 1993). These tensions crystalized in 2008 with the watershed legalization of ‘passive euthanasia’–the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment–in Mexico’s left-leaning capital. As part of the pioneering ‘Ley de Voluntad Anticipada,’ all Mexico City residents 18 and older can now make their end of life wishes known by filing advance directives at a hospital or public notary. Moreover, comprehensive palliative care services were made available for the first time to the fatally ill through health institutions and at home. While people in the capital have been granted more power to orchestrate the course of their own fate, euthanasia laws have tightened elsewhere across the country in line with Catholic prohibitions. In light of the recent reconfiguration of moral and medical regimes of death in Mexico today, this ethnographic study of a public palliative care hospital in Mexico City’s poorest borough is designed to capture how terminally ill patients, care providers, and ordinary Mexicans imagine, define, and strive to achieve a ‘good death.’ Findings will deepen anthropological understandings of care, bioethics, and the lived experience of ethical, existential, and ontological crisis at a moment when the edges of life and death are being redrawn.