claudia surjadjaja sbs meeting eimb jakarta 17 jan 2011
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Ethical Perspectives on Re-study of Human Remains Rights of the dead vs. scientific needs of the living. Claudia Surjadjaja SBS Meeting, EIMB, Jakarta 17 Jan 2011. “Indonesian” HR in Tropen Museum. collected between 1800 to early 1900 entire archipelago, then NOI

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claudia surjadjaja sbs meeting eimb jakarta 17 jan 2011

Ethical Perspectives on Re-study of Human Remains

Rights of the dead vs. scientific needs of the living

Claudia Surjadjaja

SBS Meeting, EIMB, Jakarta 17 Jan 2011


“Indonesian” HR in Tropen Museum

  • collected between 1800 to early 1900
  • entire archipelago, then NOI
  • until 1960 used for physical anthropology study
  • loaned to the Vrolik Museum UoA for 3 decades
  • forgotten, 7 years ago found, returned to Tropen
  • documented and categorized
  • 2007 discussions with experts, a report produced
  • unclaimed, less scientific value, space problem (Category C)
  • Tropen through KITLV contacted EIMB
collections and issues to re study
Collections and Issues to Re-study

Three categories:

1. “Japanese” soldiers found in Biak, Papua

2. Remains from community cemetery in Surabaya

3. Other remains from all over the archipelago

Medico-legal and ethical issues:

- “Permission” to re-study the remains: who owns the remains?

- Repatriation: is this morally just? what are the bases?

- Indonesia: play what role? who plays a role? What consideration to Indonesian ethics?

study aim and objectives
Study aim and objectives

Study aim

investigate dynamic cultural ethics in treating HR  ethical grounds

Specific objectives

1. Document prevailing attitudes and debates, especially in Indonesian context

2. Analyze current global ethics on scientific study and repatriation of human remains

3. Assess the extent to which policy exists (mostly on legality and ethics)

4. Assess the likelihood for Indonesian CoE

conceptual framework
Conceptual Framework











human value/



european past fascination and current debate
European past fascination and current debate
  • HR = once living people
  • ethics = conduct for living
  • ethics = not BW, HR = not a neutral object
  • rights of the dead vs scientific needs of the living
  • continuum: repatriation/restitution --- DNA study
  • re-dress the historic imbalance
  • cleanse past evil deeds, even if entail a loss to science
  • correct past wrong doings, making the most, heal the open festering wounds
  • ethical reasoning: beliefs/religious ground, scientific ground, or moral philosophical ground.
1 beliefs religious perspectives1
1. Beliefs/religious perspectives
  • Islam: where one dies is where one should be buried, human body is sacred even after death. “Breaking the bone of a dead person is similar (in sin) to breaking the bone of a living person” (Sunan Abu Dawud, SunanIbnMajah, MusnadAhmad).
  • Hindu and Buddhist: cremation is more than disposing of the body, it symbolizes a sense of detachment, the soul is set free from bondage
  • Christian: burial versus cremation, resurrection of bodies at the end times

2. Science/Medical Perspectives

  • HR values: scientific study, not archeological
  • benefitting the living by studying past health
  • diseases evolve as do all organisms
  • what we can do TODAY to have better health & improve our lives
  • disagreement: information from HR provides insights that can only be obtained from HR
  • rationalist science-based view
  • Jenkins (2003): “…the return of HR to indigenous communities is not just an assault on scientific research, but a faltering belief in human progress itself”

3. Human Values/Moral Perspectives

  • the dead is a means to the living
  • your end is my beginning?
  • human remains are not neutral objects
  • sanctity of human body, what constitutes respectful treatment (philosophical, cultural, & ethicalframework)
  • Jim Bowler: “The science isn\'t as important as the descendants\' rights."
  • Socrates put it in Plato’s Republic, “We are discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live”.
Utipossidetisjuris principle: as you possessed, you shall possess henceforth

newly formed sovereign states should have the same borders that they had before their independence

HR issue is thus a matter of foreign policy

“origin” country/communities?

Law on Regional Autonomy: foreign policy is the domain of Central Government

involving various technical ministries, DG of Consular Affairs at the Foreign Ministry as coordinator (Law on Foreign Relations)

Cultural and Legal Framework

arguments on indonesian collection
Arguments on “Indonesian” collection
  • who “owns” these HR? HR is cultural property?
  • re-study: the dead right, infringe of privacy, not an artifact for experiments
  • “ownership”  politicization
  • Dutch (Western) perspective vs Indonesian
  • Japanese” soldiers remains: violation of Geneva Convention (skulls from Saipan at UC Berkeley)
ethical principles
Ethical Principles
  • Non-maleficence: risk of misidentification
  • Beneficence: body of knowledge
  • Justice: the dead, the livings, society at large, value of science
  • Autonomy: informed consent from relatives for biological samples

Common ground  a shared humanity

How remains relate to research framework:

  • resource assessment (current state of knowledge)
  • research agenda (potential area)
  • research strategy (identify priorities & methods)
conclusion and recommendations
Conclusion and recommendations
  • there is no global ethics
  • Tropen’sresearch policy  umbrella policy
  • applied ethics: moral outcomes in specific situations
  • casuistry: case-based reasoning, used for juridical and ethical discussions of law & ethics
  • instead of rule-based/principle-based reasoning
  • Recommendations
  • “Japanese” soldiers remains: shall be repatriated, burry (Memorial War), abide by ICRC Guideline
  • community remains: research plan, burry
  • untracked, incl. Papuan remains: museum is a graveyard? Kept until when?  burry

Communities tend to be guided less than individuals by conscience and a sense of responsibility. How much misery does this fact cause mankind! It is the source of wars and every kind of oppression, which fill the earth with pain, sighs and bitterness – Albert Einstein, 1934

Requiescat in pace