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Saturday 26th May 2018

Death is inevitable so...

15th March 2007

Tony Delamothe at the British Medical Journal wonders if doctors and their patients are missing out on an important lesson: the inevitability of death.


A sneak preview of the Wellcome Collection and its part-body, part-skeleton male figure is a reminder of when ‘mememto mori’ (remember you must die) was a more central part of today’s culture, writes the BMJ’s deputy editor.

Once viewed as more likely to hasten their patient’s demise, today’s medics are locked in a multi-billion pound battle against it. But now researchers are beginning to ask, if death is inevitable, how do we make it a good one?

Studying those facing death could provide the answers, but modern taboos need to be overcome, and ethics committees and funding bodies need to ‘loosen up’ if the research is to provide meaningful insight, he writes.

And that's not the only challenge. Those over 40 are likely to have one or more chronic conditions, while those over 65 have three. Researchers – and the wider healthcare system – also need to recognise the role that ill health and disability play on the journey to death.

‘The good news is that many people nearing the end of life want the chance to participate in research. And encouragingly, many researchers resist the idea that end of life research is a special case, more difficult to conduct than other social research.’

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