And one more thing about death at h2g2: Source: BBC – h2g2 – The Medicalization of Death
The appropriate place of death has become firmly located outside of the community and within the hospital
The medicalization of death has played a major role in the modern denial of death. Doctors first began to appear at the deathbeds of the privileged during the eighteenth century, making it possible, with the use of opiates, for one to die without pain. The promise of a pain-free death meant that, over time, doctors took the place of the clergy at the moment of death. Advances in medicine since the nineteenth century have resulted in a dramatic decline in deaths from short-term infectious diseases. Whereas before, the mortality rate was particularly high among children, and remained at a relatively high level throughout adulthood, today the incidence of death is concentrated among the elderly.
Most people in modern Westernized societies die in hospitals or in other institutions, away from home and hidden from society. In the period that follows the person’s death, family and friends keep their grief to themselves. The general attitude towards death in Westernized societies seems to be that of fear and shame. Dying people induce discomfort and embarrassment, and as a result are removed from the community to die in isolation. Mourners are also often left isolated, because they are living reminders of the unavoidable reality of death, and are avoided rather than supported.
The appropriate place of death has become firmly located outside of the community and within the hospital. Set here, it is no longer the occasion of a ritual ceremony over which the dying person presides while surrounded by friends and relatives. Instead, death has become a technical phenomenon. Dying is no longer seen as a spiritual transition but as a medical condition. The central character at the scene of death is now not the dying person, but the doctor, who relies not on prayer, but on surgery, drugs, and medical knowledge. Even the knowledge of the person’s condition is no longer held by the individual, but has become the property of the medical team, who often choose to keep it from the patient. The information that he or she is in fact dying is often withheld from the patient by the doctors, either out of a misguided notion that the person will not be able to cope with such knowledge, or out of a plain unwillingness to approach the subject of death. When a person is severely ill, he or she is usually treated as someone with no right to an opinion, and it is often someone else who makes the decision to hospitalize that person.
In the twentieth century, grief has also become medicalized, with psychiatrists now defining what is normal and what is abnormal grief, whereas previously, community norms defined appropriate mourning. Bereavement has come to be viewed as an experience similar to that of a disease, in that it is treated more as an illness than as a change in social or religious status. Grief is considered as a deviation from the path of normal behaviour, a path to which the bereaved person is expected to return to in time, just as an ill person may return to good health.
It can be said, therefore, that the social organisation of death, dying, and bereavement generally takes place outside of the community. It seems the field of medicine is more concerned with prolonging life than actually reducing suffering. Death has been tamed, to a certain degree, in that it has become largely predictable, can be postponed by medical treatment, and takes place mostly within organized bureaucratic structures. In the end, however, there is no control over death, and because of this death offends modern human beings. This inability to ultimately control death is viewed by the medical world, and modern society in general, as a failure.
Death and Decomposition