Intended for healthcare professionals


The Big Picture: Celebrating death

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 02 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5897
  1. Richard Hurley, features and debates editor
  1. The BMJ
  1. rhurley{at}

As millions of people in the United Kingdom took part in Hallowe’en this week, so others worldwide have been remembering the dead.

Mexico’s Day of the Dead, for example, is not sombre and has traditionally entailed people dressing up as dead relatives to have a picnic at their graves, but now the day is being celebrated on a grander scale. Last Saturday Mexico City held a huge parade for the Día de Muertos, with freakish floats and thousands of people in skeleton outfits. Mexico’s tourism board admitted to the BBC that the unusual parade was in fact inspired by a scene in last year’s James Bond film Spectre.1

Does the increasing commercialisation of ways to honour the dead, and to respect and celebrate life’s finiteness, make it easier or harder for us to discuss our own certain end? A recent British survey on death and dying found that although more than two thirds of respondents said that they would be comfortable talking about their death, more than two fifths had not discussed their wishes with anyone, because to them death seemed far off.2

About two thirds of respondents said that they would prefer to die at home, but the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics show that only about a fifth of us achieve this.3 Other aspects of what people consider might represent a “good death,” including medical and spiritual preferences, also often go unmentioned, the survey found.

“Good end of life is centred on the needs and wishes of the dying person. This includes enabling them to die in their place of choice, with the full range of care and support available wherever they wish to die,” a spokesman for the National Council for Palliative Care told The BMJ, and the association is lobbying the government to this end.


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