On average, 1600 people die every day in the UK. Statistics about death – death rates and the causes of death – provide a public way to measure how well a society is doing, so information about death tells the rest of the world about a nation’s health. More than this, death and dying is an important and challenging subject for other reasons. Ceremonies and rites of passage to mark death are an inescapable feature of every society. Death is also an intensely private affair and one we all have to face at some point – both through the death of others and our own death.
“This course changed my outlook on death and dying – it’s incredibly powerful – emotionally and academically challenging. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially health professionals who are charged with communicating difficult news.”
The OU was one of the first if not THE first university to develop flexible, accessible learning to address the very challenging area of death and dying. Our ground-breaking course Death and dying (K260) covers a broad range of issues – from the meaning of life and what happens after death, to the care of dying people, grief and bereavement and the ethical dilemmas people face at the end of life. Studying the course has helped change attitudes and practice in end of life care.
The way in which people are cared for at the end of life has risen to the top of the health care agenda in the UK – and practitioners are bound by policy to provide good palliative care to everyone who needs it. Central to end-of-life care in the UK and the western world is the modern hospice movement founded by Dame Cicely Saunders. Its holistic approach provides an alternative to seeing death as failure and places the dying person at the centre of all treatment decisions. The need for the relief of ‘total pain’ encompasses physical, social, psychological and spiritual areas. This campaign to ensure that people die in a pain-free and dignified way has evolved over time into a palliative-care resource that is highly specialised, highly valued but limited (in terms of its reach).