Law of Human Remains

Photo of Wake Forest Law Professor Tanya Marsh posing in the Worell Professional Center

Professor Tanya Marsh quoted in Arkansas media about protecting Native American graves

In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act extended those requirements to any museum receiving federal funding. But the law doesn’t affect non-Indian remains, according to Tanya Marsh, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law and the author of “The Law of Human Remains.” She sees “fundamental inconsistencies in the law” as it exists today. In all 50 states, the newly deceased must be treated with dignity, but older remains can be displayed in museums and are bought or sold on eBay, she said.

That’s what she is quoted as saying, “In Senate, Arkansans request new life for a child’s burial,” written by Frank Lockwood and published originally in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette on June 7, 2016. The original story follows.

Continue reading »

Photo of Professor of Law Tanya Marsh

Professor Tanya Marsh provides law students with hands-on experience in funeral and cemetery law

Professor Tanya Marsh may not see dead people, but she certainly spends a lot of time researching and writing about them.  She has more than a passing interest in the laws surrounding human remains—she has literally written the book on the subject. Her approach to scholarship is unusually hands-on; during the summer, Professor Marsh took the licensing exam to become a funeral director in the State of California. It is likely that she is the only tenured law professor in America to hold such a license. Continue reading »

Photo of Professor of Law Tanya Marsh

Research by Professor Tanya Marsh, Daniel Gibson (JD ’15) about human remains featured in Winston-Salem Journal

The Winston-Salem Journal published the following story on Sept. 8, 2015:

Legal problems don’t go away when loved ones die. They can get more complicated. Continue reading »

Photo of Professor of Law Tanya Marsh

Professor Tanya Marsh publishes unprecedented resource regarding human remains

“Death is sometimes tragic, sometimes a blessing—always inevitable. Death transforms a living human being, a person with rights and autonomy, into … something else. Tissue and bone, once animated by life, converted into an object of fear, a focus for grief, and a medical and scientific resource.”

“The Law of Human Remains”


A human cadaver is no longer a person, but neither is it an object to be easily discarded. As a result of this tenuous legal status, human remains occupy an uneasy position in U.S. law. Perhaps because of what anthropologist Ernest Becker called our “universal fear of death,” the law of human remains occupies a remarkably unexamined niche of U.S. law.

In her new book, “The Law of Human Remains,” Professor Tanya D. Marsh undertakes the ambitious task of collecting, organizing and stating the legal rules and principles regarding the status, treatment and disposition of human remains in the United States.  The most recent comprehensive overview of the law was published in 1950. The Law of Human Remains builds on that work by creating detailed summaries of each individual state’s laws and regulations. This unprecedented resource allows readers to quickly identify the often fascinating differences that exist between states.

Continue reading »