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Feature Medicine and the Media

Going gently into that good night: what is the best death?

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 23 January 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h393
  1. Kelly Brendel, assistant web editor,, The BMJ,
  2. David Payne, digital editor,, and readers’ editor, The BMJ
  1. Correspondence to: K Brendel kbrendel{at}

“Dying of cancer is the best death” opined a recent blog on Kelly Brendel and David Payne assess the huge and impassioned response to the blog itself and in the wider global media

“The ‘nowness’ of everything is absolutely wondrous,” a dying Dennis Potter told the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg in a Channel 4 television interview shown in April 1994, two months before his death.1

The playwright, who had had pancreatic cancer diagnosed in February that year, added, “The only thing you know for sure is the present tense. Below my window . . . the blossom is out in full, and now it is the whitest, fluffiest blossomest blossom.”

Did Potter’s sensory reaction to blossom in his final months signal a good death—one that Richard Smith, former editor of The BMJ, describes as achievable “with love, morphine, and whisky”?2

Smith’s New Year’s Eve blog on about cancer offering the best death garnered global media coverage and triggered a social media storm from thousands of bereaved relatives and the parents of children with cancer. He was accused of “glibly glossing over the pain” of cancer, to quote Michael Broderick, one of the 173 respondents on

Smith acknowledged in the post that his view of dying was romantic, …

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