Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Blog

How can you manage dying and death? Knowing your rights helps.

Death is a difficult subject with which lawyers in certain practice areas deal regularly.  Probate practitioners and estate planners, personal-injury lawyers handling wrongful-death cases, and prosecutors and defenders handling homicide cases all maintain and manage relationships with either the dying or family members and friends of the dead.

Many lawyers deal regularly with the progress, results, and evidence of fatal events, injuries, and diseases—medical diagnoses of terminal injuries and illnesses, autopsy reports, and coroner examinations.  Some lawyers even investigate and litigate whether a certain person, in a coma or persistent vegetative state, is dead.

And of course, every professional, indeed everyone, must deal at some time, in the workplace and at home, with dying and death.  Terminal illnesses, hospice care, funerals, memorials, and condolences are important events in every mature individual’s life.

To help law students and graduates manage dying and death both personally and professionally, Nelson Miller, Associate Dean at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus and a torts professor and former practitioner, recently published the book “Facing Death: Worthwhile Reflection on a Necessary Subject.”  Miller gives the book free to students in his torts and other courses, while also making it available on Amazon

Lawyers work with other professionals, like physicians, law-enforcement officers, nursing-home personnel, and social workers, not to mention other lawyers, judges, court staff, and clients, who must deal regularly with dying and death.  The book thus has chapters on death and science, medicine, literature, culture, music, art, philosophy, history, law, and religion, giving the reader a survey of how others perceive, represent, and relate to death.

“I finally realized the large number of dying and death-related events in which I had been involved, many as a lawyer but also many as a family member and friend, and others around me were involved, including students,” Miller said.  “I wanted to help students and graduates be better at managing those personal and professional relationships involving another’s death, while also help us think most positively about our own demise.” 

Facing Death is the most-personal book I’ve written,” Miller concludes.  “That’s one thing one learns about death: it makes you think about what’s important.”

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July 24