Society shouldn’t be afraid to talk about death – Archbishop
Published 14 May 2012
The Archbishop of York has called for society to be more open in speaking about death and the end of life.
Writing in The Telegraph at the start of Dying Matters awareness week, Dr John Sentamu said the reluctance to talk about death meant that people were losing sight of the fact that “a good death is also part of a good life”.
“To die with dignity has become inextricably associated with a campaign for ‘assisted dying’, but for me, dignity is actually about valuing life – life, as Jesus demonstrated, ‘in all its fullness’,” he said.
“In a society where people are living longer and medical science is enabling us to add more years to our span of life, we should not have to live in fear – we should celebrate and live life to the full.
“But in evading one of the most important discussions of our lives, we lose sight of the fact that a good death is also part of a good life.”
The Archbishop called for more open discussion about the way society deals with dying, saying that he wanted to ensure “the fears and taboos surrounding death are challenged”.
The Dying Matters week has been organised by the Dying Matters Coalition to encourage discussion about death, dying and bereavement.
The Church of England, hospices and care professionals are among the coalition’s 16,000 members.
The Archbishop said that death was “too often shut away” on a hospital ward or within a care home, rather than in a familiar place such as home.
He warned that the “out of sight” nature of death today meant that society has “developed a culture that is increasingly lost for words when approaching the subject of dying”.
He continued: “We are collectively far too prone to medicalise and institutionalise dying, rather than accepting it into our homes and communities, where most of us would choose to die. We also fail to value end-of-life care appropriately.”
The Archbishop said there was a need for proper funding in order to ensure decent care for people in old age and at the end of life.
He said he would like to see clear proposals from the Government in response to the Dilnot Commission, which called for a £35,000-cap on the amount an individual would have to pay towards their own care costs during their lifetime.
He also contended that support for alternatives to assisted dying should not be construed as being uncaring or out of touch with the suffering of families.
“We fail to value end-of-life care properly.”
He continued: “We all have to die, but we can go some way towards dying with dignity if we first articulate our choices, such as the place where we want to die, the kind of spiritual support we may want, how we wish to be cared for and what our funeral plans may be.”
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