Please see recent death-related change below.
- What's New? - Death
- What's Changing? - Ageing
- What's Changing? - Consciousness
- What's Changing? - Health
- What's Changing? - Immortality
- What's Changing? - Memory
- What's Changing? - Religion
- What's Changing? - Therapy
- What's Changing? - Time
- A woman dies somewhere in the world every two minutes during pregnancy or childbirth, and each day more than 6,000 neonatal babies die within their first four weeks of life. This death toll is especially high in sub-Saharan Africa and mortality rates in the majority of resource-poor countries have stagnated or gone backwards. While the UN’s sustainable development goals set a target of no more than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030, the global ratio remained three times above that level at 223 per 100,000 in 2020.
- In much of the Western world, the dying are typically cared for in hospitals, or in aged care settings. A person’s body will usually be dealt with by a funeral home. Both of these are relatively modern developments; for most of history, family members cared for the dying and prepared the body for burial, but death now largely happens outside of the public eye. Many cultures, however, take a radically different approach. This includes encouraging people to maintain ties to their dead loved ones, such as through personal or communal rituals. In Japan, it’s been estimated that more than half of residents have an altar to their dead ancestors, that allows a person to regularly commemorate and connect with lost loved ones. Having such an altar is associated with less psychological distress.
- Fear of death may be the most primal human fear, but it's one we all experience differently. People who are older, in committed relationships, physically healthy, and either very religious or not religious at all tend to be less afraid of death.
- The clinical name for death’s grip on a person who feels totally defeated by life is psychogenic death. If left untreated, a study in the journal Medical Hypothesis suggested, it can run its course in as little as three weeks. “Psychogenic death is real,” claimed University of Portsmouth researcher John Leach in a statement. “It isn’t suicide, it isn’t linked to depression, but the act of giving up on life and dying usually within days, is a very real condition often linked to severe trauma.”
- Traditional burial and cremation has a cost for the environment, releasing chemicals into the ground or greenhouse gasses into the air, but a number of other funeral options are showing that death can be green. One of the fastest growing of those is human composting. Also known as “terramation,” human composting starts with the placement of the body in a sealed container with biodegradable material, such as straw or wood chips. Microbes in the body break down the remains, turning them into a nutrient-rich soil in about 1 to 2 months.
- In A longer life often means a worse death, Big Think argued that much end-of-life care tends to boost lifespan, with little benefit to healthspan. Drugs and procedures that treat underlying medical conditions in the elderly are often hamstrung in how much “health” they can truly restore. Ultimately, the best way to boost healthspan and hopefully remain independent until the very end is to prevent debilitating conditions from ever cropping up in the first place.
- In many countries, developments in medicine and social changes have increased life expectancy and also influenced where people are likely to die. When dying happened at home, it allowed to generations to witness dying, and to grow up with an idea of what dying involves, and what others might need of us when they are dying. Rather than spending our final days at home, we die in institutions such as hospitals and hospices, and dying has become removed and remote. Being told we are dying by someone we trust to have knowledge, such as a doctor, breaks through this suspension of reality and can be disorientating and confusing.
- Sometimes people with dementia who hadn’t been coherent for years will suddenly revert to their mentally sharp selves for up to several hours, and then die shortly after. The most dramatic case noted by one team was a patient who was bedridden, did not speak, and was unresponsive, according to a clinical director in a hospice care team, who explained “One day the patient got out of bed, went to the dining room, had a steak and engaged with family. The patient then returned to bed, went to sleep, and died the next day.” Evidence of this phenomenon, now known as “terminal lucidity” or “the rally,” can be found in medical papers from as far back as the 1700s - yet we still don’t know much about it.
- A death is an end not just of a creature’s biological existence, but to the world of meaning that an individual has built with others. No matter how long a life has been, it is hard to say that it has been enough. Finitude sometimes seems right, but rarely. Most of us do want at least a little more, even if our lives have given us a lot and - for many - they are longer, richer and more pleasant than at any time in history
- A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center about Americans’ opinions on death. When asked how long they would want to live, 69% gave a number between 78 and 100. The average ideal life span turned out to be about 90. Only 8% said that they would want to live beyond 100, and only 4% said they would want to live beyond 120.
- By pumping an experimental substance into the veins and arteries of animals that had been lying deceased for an hour, Yale researchers got their hearts to start beating again. The technology is very far away from use in humans, according to a bioethicist at Yale University. In the short term, scientists said, they hope that their research could help doctors preserve the organs of the recently deceased for use in transplants, but for The Atlantic, longer-term implications can’t be ignored: if we have the power to reanimate the heart or other organs of the recently deceased, at what point might we be able to reverse sudden deaths? For millions of people who have lost loved ones to, say, a sudden heart attack or stroke, it’s not dystopian to imagine an injection that could reverse tragedies long considered irreversible.
- Further reading:
- America’s indifference to its death crisis - Financial Times
- Bereavement is everyone’s business - BACP
- Death is part of life. Let’s talk about it - Festival of Debate
- How Do People Communicate Before Death? - The Atlantic
- How many times will you see your parents before they die? - Big Think
- Technology that lets us speak to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready? - MIT Technology Review
- The immortalists have got it wrong – here’s why we need death - Psyche Ideas
- The right to die shouldn’t depend on your income - Financial Times
- There's a strong link between altitude and suicide - Big Think
- What really matters at the end of life - YouTube
- Why death matters - Big Think Why do we die? - BBC Future
- When it comes to their plans for the afterlife, people in countries likes the U.S. are increasingly opting to be cremated rather than buried. The cremation rate passed the burial rate for the first time in 2015 and has been climbing ever since. Projections indicate that by 2040, it will be the preferred choice for nearly 8 in 10 Americans. CB Insights analysed the startups trying to simplify the cremation buying and planning process for consumers.
- Human composting, also known as “terramation” or “natural organic reduction”, starts with the placement of a body in a sealed vessel along with organic materials, such as straw, flowers, and wood chips. After 30 to 60 days, the vessel will contain roughly one cubic yard of soil, which can be used to fertilize a memorial garden or flower bed.
- Developed by Dutch startup Loop Biotech, the Living Cocoon is a casket made of mycelium. It takes seven days to grow using local waste ingredients and 30-45 days to disappear once placed in the earth. A human body buried in a mushroom casket is estimated to decompose within three years, versus 10 to 20 in traditional caskets or coffins. Not only is the process faster, it's also cleaner. Toxins in the human body are neutralised by networks of fungi and bacteria, preventing toxins from polluting the soil. Dela, the leading Dutch burial insurance provider, announced that it's including Loop's caskets in its range of funeral products for both burials and cremations.
- Aquamation, or flame-less cremation, is a form of water-based cremation that replicates a traditional burial and cremation processes but with significantly fewer carbon emissions. An alkaline solution is heated in a tank that dissolves the body and leaves just the skeleton, which can then be pulverised and returned to the family, like ashes from cremation. Aquamation yields up to 30% more ashes than flame cremation and the remaining sterile solution is rich in organic compounds that can then be used as fertiliser or cleaned and used as water.
- Researchers restored circulation and cellular activity in the vital organs of pigs, such as the heart and brain, one hour after the animals died. The research challenges the idea that cardiac death - which occurs when blood circulation and oxygenation stops - is irreversible, and raises ethical questions about the definition of death. The work followed earlier experiments by the same scientists in which they revived the disembodied brains of pigs four hours after the animals died, calling into question the idea that brain death is final.
- People who take psychedelics reported diminished fear of dying. The substances could play a role in dealing with anxiety and distress in end-of-life care.
- Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom.
- Ingemar Patrick Linden, in The Case Against Death, argued that we find ourselves at a turning point in history where the old stories in praise of human mortality are beginning to lose their grip. We are less willing to see death as a just divine punishment, less certain of an afterlife, less inclined to accept that everything that happens by nature is thereby good, and we are no longer certain that nothing can be done about death. We are beginning to allow ourselves to openly admit what our actions already say: namely, that we want youth and life and that we hate aging and death. A rebellion against death is brewing.
- Further reading:
- 10-second balance test is a surprising predictor of death - Big Think
- Are near-death experiences real? Here’s what science has to say - Big Think
- Billionaires want to abolish death. But do we really want to live forever? - Prospect Magazine
- I just learned I only have months to live. This is what I want to say - The Boston Globe
- In a Mongolian wind burial, a body falls on land before getting swept up to the heavens - Aeon Videos
- Transhumanism: Are we merely human or something more? - Big Think
- Psyche noted that the disorientation of grief can lead to a sense that a part of who we are has died along with the person we have lost. Our sense of self is partly bound up with whom we love - a fact that seems to be reflected in research showing similarities in the neural representations of the self and close others. The extent to which someone feels a loss of identity after the death of a loved one could help explain individual differences in adaptation. What does it mean to be a parent after your child has died? How does a widow act differently than a spouse? People with more severe grieving tend to have more difficulty describing their identity outside of who they were in relation to the person who died
- Scientists may be closer to answering an age-old question about what happens to the human brain as we die. Neuroscientists accidentally recorded a dying brain while they were using electroencephalography (EEG) to detect and treat seizures in an 87-year-old man and the patient suffered a heart attack.
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviours are a major public health problem: worldwide, we lose approximately 700,000 people to suicide every year. Recent global statistics for suicidal thoughts and behaviours are difficult to ascertain, and vary by nation, but a 2020 survey found that, in the United States alone, an estimated 4.9 per cent of adults had serious thoughts of suicide, and about 0.5 per cent reported a suicide attempt in the past year.
- Some scientists believe that modern old age means we're not living longer, but dying for longer. This has made the quest to make death optional, or at least meaningfully delay it, no longer a fringe pursuit. Curio explored new methods to circumvent the ageing process as tech titans invest in the quest to extend our lives.
- The remains of 1,106 people killed on September 11, 2001 - roughly 40 percent of the Ground Zero death toll - have never been identified. For two decades, medical examiners have been performing DNA tests on 22,000 body parts recovered from the wreckage hoping for matches so that families can conduct some sort of burial for their loved ones.
- The Cameroonian thinker Achille Mbembe coined the term “necropolitics” to describe how the power of states and institutions can determine who lives and who dies - and who gets locked in a state of precarity. Mbembe, author of On the Postcolony, was the first scholar to explore the term in depth in a 2003 article and later, his 2019 book of the same name. Necropolitics is often discussed as an extension of biopower, the Foucault's term for the use of social and political power to control people's lives.
- When the average person dies, their body begins decaying within four minutes. After a day or so, death is quite obvious. But apparently among some Tibetan monks there are documented cases of corpses of dead monks taking days or even weeks to decay. Buddhists believe that the monks are not yet dead but in a final meditative state known as “thukdam”.
- Dr. Christopher Kerr, Medical Officer at The Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Buffalo, New York, has devoted his time to documenting the final moments of thousands of terminal patients, focusing on their dreams or visions of deceased loved ones - commonly referred to as visitation dreams and deathbed visions - which tend to bring comfort and even prepare them in some way for the inevitable.
- The disruption in healthcare services caused by Covid-19 may have led to an estimated 239,000 maternal and child deaths in South Asia, according to a UN report. It's focused on Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, home to some 1.8 billion people. The report found that women, children and adolescents were the worst-hit.
- The UK saw 7% more deaths than normally expected during 2020 - one of the highest in Europe, data from the Office for National Statistics showed. Within the UK, England's death rate was 8% above expected levels across the whole year, Scotland's was 6%, Northern Ireland 5% and Wales 4%. During the autumn wave in 2020, Poland, Spain and Belgium were among the worst affected countries.
- Recompose announced that they had finally started operations, after years of working to make composting a legal method of handling the remains of a deceased human. The company's first facility is located in Washington state, US has ten vessels for natural organic reduction, also known as human composting. During the 'laying in', the body is laid in a cradle surrounded by wood chips, alfalfa and straw. The cradle is then placed in a vessel and covered with more plant material, and is left there for 30 days. Microbes and oxygen combine to break down everything, leaving a rich material, much like topsoil purchased for use in a garden. Each body creates one cubic yard of soil amendment.
- Covid-19 cuts against a long-standing trend. Since the second world war, wealthy states have had few massive episodes of premature fatality. Their cultures tended to push mortality out of sight, into hospitals and out of polite conversation. The pandemic nudged people in the rich world to adopt the open and pragmatic approaches to death that are more typical in developing countries, where poverty, poor health care, dangerous roads and armed conflict keep people on familiar terms with mortality.
- For philosopher Roman Krznaric, summarising part of his own book, The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World, we must learn to confront the terror of death and develop the courage to explore how awareness of our mortality can help us navigate the now. He asks us to think of Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait Thinking About Death, which has a macabre skull plastered on her forehead, or to consider the advice of Albert Camus: “Come to terms with death. Thereafter anything is possible.” But coming to terms with death is easier said than done. One of the secrets for doing so is not to spend hours contemplating visions of the Grim Reaper, but to reimagine our relationship with time itself.
- Air pollution in Lagos, Nigeria's most populous city, caused more than 11,000 premature deaths in 2018 alone, according to a World Bank study. Children under five accounted for a majority of those deaths.
- Heart disease, stroke, and lung disease remain the top three killers globally. Malaria and influenza also contribute significantly to global mortality, with the former estimated to have killed 445,000 people in 2016 and the latter as the likely cause of death for between 250,000 and 500,000 people annually. With close to 400,000 lives lost in just the first six months of the pandemic, Covid-19 quickly rose to be a new leading cause of death worldwide.
- A new breed of professional is helping find a way for many to keep "living on" after death, and while many call them digital embalmers, a better term, argued Forbes is "keepers of our digital afterlife".
- Public health experts warned that as lockdowns and travel restrictions reduced access to preventive care and vaccinations around the world, 1.2 million children could die in the second half of 2020 alone. This would be the first rise in global child mortality in six decades. Among the countries expected to be hardest hit were Brazil, Nigeria, Somalia, and Pakistan.
- The question of digital afterlife has been examind by Faheem Hussain, a clinical assistant professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University. During a talk entitled Our Digital Afterlife, Hussain entertained questions that are hard to answer, noting that "We have normalised talking about safety and security of our data and privacy, but we should also start including the conversation of how to manage data afterwards. It's a bit tricky because it involves death and no one wants to talk about it."
- Advocates of voluntary euthanasia believe that opposition to their views is so strong because they fly in the face of the current - at least Western - paradigm, which dictates that all human effort and endeavour should be directed towards living longer at all costs, and any death is perceived as some fundamental failure that must be conducted shamefully, privately and in secret, rather than developing technology that affords us the opportunity to consider how the end of life might be reframed as a cause for some celebration or at least a momentous event, as it has been regarded by other cultures and in times gone by.
- The dying have momentous things to say to all of us, even when they say them in simple unschooled words. Their pronouncements become like those of prophets; they have gone ahead of us to tell us the truths we don’t have the courage for right now. Men and women, some of whom have more than a few days left to live, tend to speak with clarity, lack of pretension and utter sincerity.
- While every culture has its own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form. An Australian scientist found recently that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology. The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse.
- The Oxford Internet Institute has studied the ethics of the growing digital afterlife industry. Over the next 30 years, an estimated 3 billion people will die. As things stand, most of these people look likely to leave their digital remains in the hands of technology companies, who may be tempted to monetise these ‘assets.’ Given the recent history of privacy and security ‘outages’ from these tech giants, there may be significant cause for concern.
- A Times Literary Supplement article found that continuing to integrate the dead into our lives, carrying on some form of individual and collective relationship with them, has occurred in various ways across millennia and cultures, but that our hyperconnected online environment is tailor-made for both memorialising and continuing bonds with our dead, particularly since the avatars of the deceased don’t vanish instantaneously on the demise of their offline corollaries.
- Further reading:
- The Institute for Arts and Ideas investigated why we record deaths and examined whose deaths are considered worthy of recording and whose not. This reflects Theodore Zeldin's view that if the past is replayed too fast, life seems futile, and humanity resembles water flowing from a tap, straight down the drain. For Zeldin, a film of history for today needs to be in slow motion, showing every person who ever lived as a star, though dimly visible in a night sky, a history still unexplored.
- The death café movement began in 2010, when Jon Underwood in East London read an article about the cafés mortels pioneered by a Swiss sociologist to “bring death out of silence.” Underwood quit his job and published an online how-to guide for facilitators, with the goal of “helping people make the most of their (finite) lives. For Quartz, decades of social psychology research suggest such an approach actually has health benefits. Indeed, the “death positive movement,” which includes death doulas, mortician vloggers, and colouring book creators, seems to have gone viral online, while the app WeCroak reminds people they’re going to die five times a day!
- According to BBC figures, more than 70% of people globally still die from non-communicable, chronic diseases. These are not passed from person to person and typically progress slowly. The biggest single killer is cardiovascular disease, which affects the heart and arteries and is responsible for every third death. This is twice the rate of cancers - the second leading case - which account for about one in six of all deaths. Other non-contagious diseases such as diabetes, certain respiratory diseases and dementia are also near the top of the list.
- Further reading:
- Chatham House warned that many people in humanitarian crises suffer and die from chronic diseases, which now account for 7 in 10 of all deaths worldwide. Conflicts contaminate the air and water, reduce access to nutritious food and create stressful living conditions. This makes people sicker and more susceptible to chronic illness. At the same time, health workers flee, hospitals are targeted and there are medication shortages.
- Child mortality has fallen by more than half since 1990. In developing regions, the gains are even more impressive. In Africa, 17% of children died before reaching age 5 in 1990. By 2015, that was down to 8%. In the world’s second-largest country, India, child mortality fell by 69% in that timespan, or over two-thirds. In China, the most populous, it fell by 83%.
- Further reading:
- The global suicide rate has fallen by 38 percent since peaking in 1994, according to The Economist. That means some 4 million lives were saved (for comparison: a million people have died in armed conflict during the same period, noted GZEROMedia).
- In 1990, 12.5 million children around the world died before reaching the age of five. In 2017, that figure was just 5.4 million. Extrapolated over 28 years, this means that international and local efforts to improve the health of children have saved the lives of 100 million children. See also: What Counts? - Child Mortality Rate.
- Around the world, suicide rates are falling as a result of urbanisation, greater freedom and some helpful policies. The US is the notable exception: since 2000, its suicide rate has risen by 18%, compared with a 29% drop in the world as a whole. The Economist argued that it could learn from the progress made elsewhere, and more lives could be saved globally with better health services, labour-market policies and curbs on alcohol, guns, pesticides and pills.
- 47% of American respondents to a survey by YouGov said they believe in ghosts. Indeed, around 15% of them reckon that they have seen one. People who left school aged 18 or younger and those who identify as either Middle Eastern, Native American or mixed race have a far higher propensity to believe in ghosts. Most striking is the large gender gap. Some 53% of women believe in ghosts compared with 40% of men.
- Researchers noted that the general risk of death seems to drop by about 5% for each point gained on the Mediterranean diet scale. What’s more, some past research has shown associations between the Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of cancer, and particularly with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
- How should we grieve when someone close to us dies? Should we wail and gnash our teeth? Should we swallow our pain? Some would say there is no right answer. You feel whatever you feel, and heal however you heal, and that’s okay. But according to the ancient Stoics – those Greco-Roman philosophers making a comeback as preachers of practical wisdom in a self-help world – there is a correct answer to the question of how we should grieve. And the answer is that we shouldn’t. What’s done is done. There is nothing you can do to change the situation – so move on.
- The number of deaths caused by terrorist attacks worldwide has declined in recent years, according to reports compiled by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, reported GZEROMedia. In 2017, terrorism-related deaths fell nearly 25% compared with the previous year. And since 2014, the global numbers have fallen a full 64%.
- “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being,” Carl Jung wrote as he contemplated life and death.
- Big Think reported on scientists at Stanford University who claim to have been able to figure out just how fast death happens on a cellular level. Researchers took cytoplasm from frog eggs and placed it in a tube. The cytoplasm was picked as its full of proteins, which were visible as bright green globs. The researchers then placed an extract from a cell that had recently undergone programmed cell death at the far end of the tube and measured how quickly it spread. The cells basically self-destructed, started by a "trigger wave" which then spread at roughly at 2mm an hour or 30 micro-centimeters a minute. As death spread, the green globs died out. Interestingly, according to New Scientist, the self-destruction part occurred much faster than the extract itself moved.
- The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement makes a very controversial suggestion for saving the planet - let humans die out.
- The specifics of green burials vary widely, but typically they require far fewer resources for the care of the body and skip a number of the traditional steps, making them better for the environment. Plus, they can save families on funeral costs. Interest in these pared-down, eco-friendly options has grown as people look for ways to cut their carbon footprint. For example, nearly 54% of Americans are reportedly considering a green burial, and 72% of cemeteries are reporting an increased demand, according to a survey released earlier this year by the US National Funeral Directors Association.
- The Guardian argued that "In the long run we are all dead, yet modern life is increasingly shielded from that reality." Most of the 575,000 deaths each year in the UK take place in silence and private, blinds down, doors closed, away from what used to be called prying eyes. Most funerals follow suit - typically discreet affairs. The average Briton dies in semi-darkness, is cremated behind drawn curtains, and has no public memorial. The shared presence of death that was common in other times or societies has been lost in ours.
- Bob Dylan wrote, in To Ramona, that "there's not use in trying to deal with the dying, though I cannot explain that in lights", although ironically, the earlier Dylan from whom he took his name told us to "rage, rage against the dying of the light".
- According to pattidigh, when we die, we leave behind shadows of ourselves in the form of objects, a kind of luminous debris of things.
- The profundity of death can yield some pretty banal work, so perhaps the message is most profound when it is expressed obliquely through art.
- A gathering of contemporary writers struggle to come to terms with the fate awaiting us all, in a series of reflections on how to mark time before the final reckoning.
- A leading futurist argues that humans will effectively become "immortal" around 2045.
- How long before "Goodbye" magazine and celebrity funerals?
- In 2007, Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, who was dying of pancreatic cancer, delivered a one-of-a-kind last lecture that made the world stop and pay attention. Watch Randy Pausch's talk.
- Celebrating loved ones' "deathdays". http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1734819,00.html
- Don't fear death - "enjoy the setting sun". http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6710655.ece
- Good death http://www.dailygrail.com/node/view/354
- Remembering loved ones with affection. http://www.gratefulness.org/poetry/presence.htm
- A most beautiful death http://www.lettersofnote.com/2010/03/most-beautiful-death.html
- Dignity in death http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article6710663.ece seemed to extend to the ability to choose your own apocalypse. http://sdn.slate.com/features/endofamerica/default.htm
- Children's hospices http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2099-2011108,00.html
- Befriending network http://www.befriending.net/ ; end-of-life support http://www.befriending.net/other_endoflife.htm
- Death & The Chalice of Repose http://www.lapismagazine.org/archives/L02/schroder-sheker.html. Some keys to a gracious death lie with the rediscovery of eleventh century music from the monasteries of France.
- A transforming perspective on bereavement http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,0_0713994142,00.html?sym=MIS
- “Euthanasia Coaster” is a hypothetic euthanasia machine in the form of a roller coaster, engineered to humanely – with elegance and euphoria – take the life of a human being.
- Necropolis - London and its dead
- Dead is dead, and no security risk to us, says the guard in this true story. Brutal honesty or testimony to the cheapness of human life under certain conditions?