Death and Dying

I think one of the most interesting things to think about is what happens after you die. What is it like? Is there a heaven and hell or are we reincarnated into a tree, a slug, another human, a rock? Or is there just endless nothingness, an eternity of pitch blackness? However, this post is not about the issue of life after death, it is about life just before death.

People have varying views on how they want to live their last days and the critical decisions they make in those last days. I wanted to see if this varied in any significant way from country to country.

One study was done on the views of death and dying in Ireland. The study was a survey in which they asked the 667 adult participants a variety of questions pertaining to their ethical views of health care at the end of one’s life.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Questions the surveyors asked the participants on the issue of decision making in relation to terminal illness (answers as percentages).

As you can see, most participants believed either the doctor, the family, or a combination of the two had authority over decision making when determining treatment in the event they were in the hospital. In actuality, in Ireland, the family does not have any legal standing in terms of decision making for incompetent patients. Decision making is left to the lead physician unless there is a conflict between the best interests of the family and the doctor that decisions are left to Irish courts.

Figure 2

Attitudes towards how the participants would like to be treated while dying (answers as percentages).

Most participants believed a competent person has the right to free will, and also put a strong emphasis on quality of life rather than length, as well as that they feared helplessness and dependence more than death. In addition, the participants put a strong emphasis on spiritual and religious support, showing the country’s strong sense of Roman Catholicism (84.2% of the population).

The study concludes that the Irish general public is massively misinformed on end-of-life care, dying, and death. For many, trust is left to physicians and family. In addition, quality of death is profoundly more important than timing of death and religion plays a major role in determining that quality. But how does Ireland compare to the United States?

A study done by the Pew Research Center set out to ask some similar questions to Americans.

Figure 3

This question most closely relates to question 6 of Figure 2. Interestingly, there is an 8% increase in America compared to Ireland in favor of wanting to be alive no matter what (31% in America and 23% in Ireland).

Figure 4

To me, this is one of the most interesting parts of the entire study. What really jumps out at me is that White and Hispanic Catholics believed it is acceptable to have a moral right to suicide under any case. Of course there are varying views and a vast array of liberal and conservative Catholics, but Catholicism believes that it is a sin to commit suicide as God has given you life and to take that life which he has given you would be grounds to go to hell. At any rate, I found it to be interesting.

I would be curious as to take a look at some of the other major countries around the world (France, China, Japan, Germany, etc.) to find out their views on life just before death and the treatment one should be able to receive. It might be able to tell us a lot about each country’s culture and show some similarities and differences on a topic for which many people have very strong opinions.


2 thoughts on “Death and Dying

  1. Jiamin Shan

    This is a really interesting post that relates to ethics. At first I thought you are going to talk how dying people actually feel at the end of their life, but now it seems more like a survey on people’s opinion. The survey provides a lot of interesting facts on how religion beliefs and culture will affect people’s decision when facing death. Speaking of the use of the data, hospitals and government can probably use the information to avoid controversies that may occur when the patient is at the last period of his life. I also would like to see statistics from other countries as well.

  2. Colleen Byrne

    This was a really interesting way to examine the different way people look at deaths, and I think it would be really cool to look at more countries, as well as religions and even gender to see any differences. I think what surprises me most is the last chart, because in almost every single group that was polled, the percent of people who believe that suicide is morally right drops when the person is “ready to die, living is now a burden” and “is an extremely heavy burden on family”. I would definitely be interested in learning if that’s because of their religious beliefs, or if it’s just something within people in general.

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