Intended for healthcare professionals


Don't blame religion for poor funerals

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 13 November 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:1169
  1. Anthony E J Fitchett, general practitioner (t_fitchett{at}
  1. Mornington Health Centre, 169 Englinton Road, Dunedin, New Zealand 9001

    EDITOR—The funeral of Fletcher's father obviously became part of the crematorium assembly line.1 But the fault lies not with religion or the minister but with the undertaker who chose that system and the relatives who agreed to it without asking how Mr Fletcher's life would be celebrated.

    Fletcher describes how any conscientious minister, or funeral celebrant, prepares for a funeral. Religious or not, if the family had made use of the vicar of their parish they might have had a more appropriate service, where many could join in marking his father's life and death, without the time constraints of the “crem assembly line.”

    I suspect that Fletcher's religion of humanism colours his view of the evidence for God (many distinguished scientists believe in God) and leads to his unjustified implication that the more remarkable people request non-religious funerals. Everyone is remarkable in some way, and it is often only at their funerals that we discover just how remarkable.

    Preparation for a funeral is important not just to those officiating, but to the bereaved. When my 26 year old son was killed the organisation of the funeral service, painful though it was, helped to preserve our sanity.

    The task of funeral celebrants, religious or secular, is to support the bereaved through that traumatic, tearful, and rudderless time so that they can express their grief, celebrate the dead, and prepare for the long, painful struggle towards acceptance of their loss.


    • Competing interests AEJF is a member of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and a lay representative on its general synod/te Hintoa Whanui, and he representd that church on the Anglican Consultative Council.


    View Abstract