What is the cultural value of dying in an era of assisted dying?

Richards, N. and Krawczyk, M. (2021) What is the cultural value of dying in an era of assisted dying? Medical Humanities, 47(1), pp. 61-67. (doi: 10.1136/medhum-2018-011621) (PMID:31350304)

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Assisted dying is now a lawful and integral component of many societies ‘death system’, orienting individual and collective encounters with death and dying. While only a very small number of people living with terminal illness in these societies will opt for an assisted death, the choice, nevertheless, exists for those who satisfy the legal criteria. Theoretically, in these jurisdictions, this turns dying into an optional part of the human life cycle; a final phase of life that, until now, seemed a universal feature of life except in instances of sudden death. As anthropologists specialising in death and dying, we pose the question of how the various cultural scripts that have sought to give meaning to dying in post-industrial Western societies since the mid-20th century might be affected by the advent of assisted dying. We begin by building on both medical and social science literature to construct a working definition of ‘dying’. We then identify four dominant cultural scripts: psychological growth, preparation for death, the suffering experience and the caring experience. After outlining each script, we discuss how it may (or may not) be affected by the increase in assisted dying legislation. We propose that it is the ‘caring’ script; the notion of affective, intergenerational bonds created through the experience of caring for people specifically in the last few months or weeks of their life, which are likely to be most affected. However, we find that access to these cultural scripts is already limited because of the widespread reluctance to recognise and name ‘dying’, and the challenges of doing so. Consequently, the various cultural scripts we identify are negated not by the increase in assisted dying, but rather by a combination of medical advances and institutional orthodoxies which limit opportunity for people to experience themselves, or others, as ‘dying’.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Richards, Dr Naomi and Krawczyk, Dr Marian
Authors: Richards, N., and Krawczyk, M.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social & Environmental Sustainability
Journal Name:Medical Humanities
Publisher:BMJ Publishing Group
ISSN (Online):1473-4265
Published Online:26 July 2019
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 The Authors
First Published:First published in Medical Humanities 47(1):61-67
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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