Schiavo and Contemporary Myths about Dying

Posted: 12 Apr 2007

See all articles by Rebecca Dresser

Rebecca Dresser

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law


When the Schiavo case burst onto the national scene, most of us assumed that everyone would see the case as we did. But instead, Schiavo showed that U.S. pluralism was alive and well in decisions about life-sustaining treatment. Schiavo demonstrated, too, that at least some of this pluralism reflects misguided myths about human life and death. In this essay, I examine the myths that Schiavo exposed. One such myth is that death with dignity is easily attainable in modern America, as long as people make living wills. Another myth is that only patients themselves are permitted to take quality of life into account when deciding about life-sustaining interventions. A third myth is that research advances are bringing an end to the difficulties of aging. To examine the myths, I draw on public commentary about Schiavo and on four texts published in 2005, when the case was in the headlines.

Keywords: Life-Sustaining Treatment, Schiavo, Incompetent Patients, Advance Directives, Quality of Life, Disability

Suggested Citation

Dresser, Rebecca, Schiavo and Contemporary Myths about Dying. University of Miami Law Review, Vol. 61, p. 401, 2007, Available at SSRN:

Rebecca Dresser (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics