chapter  9
17 Pages

End-of-life legal issues in the United States

For all those centuries during which there was little that medicine could do

for all the ills to which flesh is heir, the end of life was, as a legal matter,

relatively unproblematic. Neonatal, perinatal, and puerperal deaths were

common, as were childhood and adolescent deaths from accident and dis-

ease. For those few who survived to old age, death usually occurred at

home with minimal medical intervention. With respect to each of these

forms of death, the law was distinctly a background figure, lightly policing

the scene for evidence of foul play, and loosely presiding over the distribution of whatever assets the decedent had left behind.