Postmortem Defamation in a Society Without Truth for the Living
41 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2020
Date Written: 2019
Defamation law limits the private action for reputational injury to plaintiffs who are alive at the time of disparagement. In a novel reform proposal, Professor Don Herzog argues that we should extend defamation liability to disparaging statements about dead people. This Essay evaluates Herzog’s theory of postmortem reputational harm by focusing mainly on two counterarguments not addressed in his proposal: The first is that, since the election of President Trump, the modern political discourse has become so detached from the truth and callous about death that it is difficult to envision a moral obligation to protect postmortem reputational interests. The second distinguishes the consequentialist doctrine of testamentary intent from Herzog’s moral theory of postmortem defamation. This Review Essay concludes that, while society should indeed strive to recognize a moral obligation to protect decedents against reputational harm, we cannot do so without first restoring our commitments to truth-telling and respecting the solemnity of death.
Keywords: Defamation, Reputation, Postmortem, Posthumous, Testamentary Intent
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