“I want to die in my sleep”-how people think about death, choice, and control: Findings from a Massive Open Online Course

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Annals of Palliative Medicine, 2019, 8 (4), pp. 411 - 419
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© Annals of Palliative Medicine. Background: Complex social and ethical debates about voluntary assisted dying (euthanasia), palliative care, and advance care planning are presently being worked through in many developed countries, and the policy implications of these discussions for palliative care are potentially very significant. However, community attitudes to death and dying are complex, multilayered, and contain many mixed messages. Methods: Participants posted comments in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on death and dying, entitled Dying2Learn. This provided an opportunity to explore societal and personal attitudes to wishes and beliefs around death and dying. For one activity in the MOOC, participants responded to a question asking them about “the best way to go”. Results: Responses were subjected to thematic analysis, during which they were coded for conceptual categories. This analysis showed how acceptance of death as a natural and normal process, and as a shared event that affects a whole social network, may nonetheless be accompanied by deep reluctance to address the physical process of dying (i.e., “avoidant acceptance”). Conclusions: Our findings highlighted a desire for choice and control in relation to dying, which is a common element in discussions of both advance care planning and palliative care. This same focus may contribute to a perception that voluntary assisted dying/euthanasia is a necessary strategy for ensuring that people have control over their dying process. We discuss the paradox of individuals wanting to have control whilst preferring not to know that they are dying.
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