The Week in Death 21/01/19

The Week in Death

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From the bizarre “miracle” cure-alls used throughout the ages, to the rise of robots in palliative care, right through to the latest research on dying people’s last words, this is the Week in Death.

News and campaigns

Louise Winters wrote in the Guardian this week that “putting the fun in funeral” shouldn’t be the only way we go about celebrating a person’s life. Instead, Louise wants to see funerals that allows people to express their grief in a comfortable way.  As Louise writes, ‘personalising a funeral involves so much more than changing the colour of our ties.’

The focus on creating a funeral that’s alternative or breaks the mould can be liberating,  but it’s not everyone’s way of approaching death. It’s a thoughtful article that’s sure to start a debate surrounding ways of grieving in the DEATH office. Read the article here. 

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Will the rise of robots change healthcare?

From robot bears, “carebots” and robotic fingers that perform complex eye surgery, robots are set to transform every aspect of healthcare, ageing and dying.

Whether you just can’t wait for the robot apocalypse or you’ve watched too many nightmarish Sci-Fi films, the rise of machines and robots in our world is unavoidable. Here we look at how robots might change healthcare.

How will nanotechnology impact ageing and death?

Nanotech is the altering of matter at the tiniest scales, such as the atomic, molecular and supramolecular scale.

In the realm of nanoscience, scientists deal with extremely small things (yeah, that’s the technical term) across many fields, such as chemistry, biology, physics and engineering. Nanotechnology has the potential to change the way we age, die and even live forever. Here we attempt to understand how nanotech works, and the kinds of breakthroughs it can create.

Do you have online privacy preferences for after you die?

Most of us have dead relatives or friends in our phone’s contacts list, and some of us even have Facebook friendships with dead loved ones, old text messages from those no longer around and even ghostly Skype contacts.

It’s not surprising that online privacy has become such a big issue for the dead when they never really leave the Web.

Here we take a look at how you can take control of your online privacy for when you’re no longer around.

Watching and listening

You can usually find death on primetime TV, but when you do it usually involves a fast-paced crime scene investigation in a small village with a bleak coastal backdrop.

But in Horizon’s BBC2 We Need to Talk About Death, Kevin Fong points out that how we die is a question that all of us must face, and yet we avoid talking about it. He meets the doctors who have the unenviable task of working through the dilemma of what it means to live well at the end of life, and whether or not our desire for a lengthier life results in a needless over-medicalisation of death. Well worth a watch.


The “miracle” cures throughout the ages that were inventive but mostly more deadly than the ailments they were aiming to cure.

The use of theriac to combat plague was popular. Theriac was a potent mixture of 80 ingredients, including fermented viper flesh, ground coral, saffron, opium, and more, mashed into sticky syrup. Unappetising, sure, but intriguing. 

There are some things that just seem inherently unnatural to throw down your gullet, such as a pint of radium. The Victorians seemingly put Radium in everything – from toothpaste to wallpaper. It was thought the chemical was healing. Read about it here.

What do people actually say before they die? It’s hard to know whether you’re going to be groaning about the itch in your groin or spouting philosophical aphorisms to an audience of entranced listeners on your deathbed. You simply can’t plan for that sort of thing, unlike other areas of death.

“Famous last words” are central to certain romanticised views of death, so it’ll be interesting to see how research into communication at the end of life can throw light on the dying experience.

Obviously, medicine makes speaking at the end of life difficult. But people who are dying communicate in many ways, even by simply listening. Read about it here.

Find out more

Visit Farewell Wishes to start think about your death, your funeral and how you’d like to be remembered. Start here. 

Take some inspiration from the late, great James Brown if you were wondering what it looks like to get a send-off that reflects a life well-lived.

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