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Discussing Death Matters


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Death is something many people find difficult to talk about or even think about; our own or others’ “point zero”. From a general Western point of view death is something to be avoided or at least delayed as long as possible. Those of us who work in health, especially the pointy end of it in aged care or palliative care and acute areas working with trauma and/or in intensive care, are regularly present to death. Chan and Tin (2012, p. 899) refer to this as performing “death work”. Undertaking death work risks a raft of ills from compassion fatigue to countertransference. Elizabeth Menzies (1960) in her classic work on health professionals encounters with death and trauma highlighted the defences that they employed in order to manage their experiences. Often, within these contexts, death is thoroughly medicalised; a specific discourse of death and dying that may offer a defence of sorts in its objectification and thus distancing, but may not be useful in a wider cultural sense. Although discourses such as spirituality are also utilised by health professionals, especially in palliative care, the primary vehicle for health care professionals to make sense of death is as the failure of the physical body. In this paper I want to explore the multiple discourses around death and dying as they circulate in New Zealand in the early twenty first century and consider the question of whether we are still a death-denying culture as many have claimed (Aries, 1974; Elias, 1985). The prevailing discourses around death that we employ in New Zealand do not necessarily originate here but have taken root or alternatively may be challenging our dominant ideas.

Item Type: Journal article
Uncontrolled Keywords: death, death-denying, discourses
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
R Medicine > RT Nursing
Divisions: Schools > Centre for Health & Social Practice
Depositing User: Sallie Greenwood
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2016 22:40
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 04:26

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