The following essay is focused on the highlighting of sociology of death and dying. The aim of the research is to identify the definition of death and to classify sociological aspects of death, such as suicide, abortion prohibition, death penalty, euthanasia, and several others based on fear of death.
Death, as a phenomenon, can be described as a repeating extinction of life for all living organisms. Dying has greatly influenced human society being one of the essential reasons of religion genesis and development. Inevitability of death and belief in after-life led to the necessity of dead bodies keeping. Thus, depending of the religion, there appeared cemeteries and cremation centers. Various funeral rituals and mourning are also the result of sociological aspect of death – belief in after-life.
While giving the definition to the ‘sociology of death’ term, it should be pointed out that it is a branch of science studying behavior of big groups of people, which is connected with death phenomenon. While researching sociology of death and dying, scientists agree that in many cases it is concentrated upon fear of death, as it has a great impact on various forms of social behavior and is widely used to control the social life.
“More recent analyses have suggested that death in modern societies has been ‘sequestered’. This means that it has been removed from the public realm and placed firmly within the private sphere of the family and individual – thus removing the problem of mortality from an overtly public or social context”.
The willingness to live is one of the most unmotivated desires of all existing ones. People can neglect such values as morality, law, personal feelings for the sake of importance of one’s own life. The willingness to live has the unwillingness to die as its consequence. And all human fears take their origin from the fear of death. The more one wants to live, the bigger the fear of death is and vice versa.
There is nothing unnatural in human dying. Nevertheless, a person alive is excited about inevitability of one’s own death. Thoughts about violent or early death call an especial horror. This horror is used in society for strengthening of social order or authority power. Death penalty and assassinations, as the most aggressive controllers of social life and intergroup rivalry, were applied during military and counterinsurgency operations of different historical periods. Historically, the use of fear of death as the most powerful instrument of social regulations is believed to be the most ancient practice.
Different groups of people and society in general tend to accept the so-called ‘death standards’. For instance, cases, when death penalty is applied to an innocent person due to miscarriage of justice, which are revealed, quite often cause storm of protests and requests to prohibit the death penalty. However, situation, when thousands of people die due to the road-traffic accidents, seems to be accepted more plainly and does not raise a question to prohibit vehicles.
“Death is a social event. When we say death is socially ‘organized’ we are referring to the ways that society makes death happen in various ways and that an individual’s passing may not be just the result of a biological event. The ‘organization refers to the patterns and structures of how we go about living our lives, including how we think about and go about our dying. This then suggests that if society changes its patterns of living and its social structures, then we would see a change in the patterns of dying”.
This fact proves the idea that ‘death standards’ have historical origin. For example, if nowadays anybody is killed by predator, the case is considered to be horrible and becomes a good subject to discuss; while people dying because of electric shock do not emotionalize at all. In historical context not so long ago, death of predator was of routine character and death of lightning caused a true fright.
From the sociological perspective “some people who commit suicide may suffer from psychological problems, but sociologists explain suicide in a social context instead of looking at factors internal to the individual deviant”.
The problem of social ‘death regulation’ is mainly focused on the capital punishment issue. Talking about death penalty, sociologists debate how fear of death influences public life and society in general, and how a society can regulate social life using fear of death.
The proponents of capital punishment explain their point of view by the desire of revenge and preventing measures of crimes, which concern moral issues. On the contrary, the opponents of death penalty argue that fear of death is not able to reduce the number of crimes. Thus, they stress on the statement that death is a weak punishment and cannot stop criminal. However, this point of view does not correspond to a nature of human values and fears. It is obvious that if a criminal had known about capital punishment for his crime, he would not have committed it. Crime for the sake of revenge is considered to be an exclusion from psychological and criminality rules.
“Sometimes people favor capital punishment because they think it saves money. They argue that killing someone outright costs less than keeping the person alive in prison for the rest of his or her life. However, after trials and appeals, a typical execution costs the taxpayer up to six times more than a 40-year stay in a maximum-security prison”.
The most reasonable argument of capital punishment prohibition is based on the facts of juridical miscarriage. There are a lot of cases, when death penalty was applied to the innocent people, while the real criminals were not even arrested. That is why the task of authorities is to create such system, which, on one hand, could reduce the number of people killed by criminals by applying the capital punishment; and, on the other hand, could protect innocent people from the juridical miscarriage.
Euthanasia, as one of the aspects of death and dying, has been highly debated about for a long time. The main contradiction in euthanasia issue is: human right to life is not disputed, while the right to death is. Proponents of euthanasia support this practice for the sake of those, who are not able to bear sufferings caused mainly by serious diseases, such as cancer or AIDS. They consider euthanasia as the only way to stop physical pain of people, when medicine cannot help anymore.
“In the past two decades, euthanasia has been hotly debated on by those who believe it as murder and those who believe it as mercy. The advocates of euthanasia emphatically support it since the right to die with dignity is a basic human right”.
The vision of opponents of euthanasia is different. They want to delay a moment of dying and prolong life as long as it is possible. However, psychologists classify this type of behavior as egoism, because egoists worry only about their own feelings and benefits, even if others have to suffer. Another reason explaining position against euthanasia is a personal fear of death. Opponents of euthanasia instinctively identify themselves with the victim and do not want to die. In fact, these people do not have any rational evidence of their point of view. The only basis they appeal to is religion, which proclaim fear of death or morality, which takes its origin from a particular belief.
Sociology of death and dying also includes an abortion prohibition issue. The opponents of abortion consider abortion as a kind of murder, and explain their position by the fact that even an embryo is a living creature that has a right for life. That is why taking life in embryo is against the law. Religious antagonists of abortion consider embryo as a creature with soul given by God; that is why abortion is believed to be a sin.
Sociology of death and dying has also the global tendencies. Since ancient times people all over the world have tried to find the way to avoid death. They dreamed to find magical “living water” or to invent “elixir of youth”. Nowadays, when people have discovered almost everything in the world, they continue to believe in fairy-tales and search for the eternal life. And while one group of people is still dreaming, another one earns money on their dreams. Pragmatic businessmen create products designed to satisfy willingness to have young appearance and long life. A number of modern marketing concepts successfully use indirect fear of death.
Death is associated with old age; that is why a ‘cult of youth’ is created. The primary sign of senescence is flabby and wrinkled skin. Thus, the fear of having old aged skin is a primary form of fear of death. Probably, because of this fact, various products and services, which promise to decrease skin aging, are in fashion. The most popular remedies are anti-age cosmetics and plastic surgery. According to statistics data, the number of consumers of such goods and services has considerably increased in the last decade. This fact may indicate that in a developed society a fear of death is strangely amplified.
The main cause of this process is believed to be a mass change of individual consciousness in a developed society. The individual distinguishes oneself from an external world and from the social groups. In this case, the value of life increases in one’s own eyes. As society is regulated by the law and not by morality, value and self-esteem of the individual is increased. In other words, the person begins to love oneself, and his desire to live increases with the level of love. In a context of sociology, willingness to live is directly proportional to the fear of death.
Vegetarianism, in a context of sociology of death and dying, is rather interesting issue. Vegetarians completely deny the possibility of killing any animal, but not any creature. Using the metaphor of vegetarians, meat soup – is a liquor of corpses. Nevertheless, they consume natural organisms like carrots, beets, onions, cabbage etc. They also make soups. So, their death limit standard can be applied only to the living world.
Recently, a social network, Facebook, which unites more than 800 million people, has opened a service designed to help those people, who are going to commit suicide. If any user finds on Facebook any of his friends, whose comments or mood show a desire to commit suicide, he can inform about it a technical support service. In this case, probable suicide committer will receive a message on behalf of Facebook with the phone numbers of crisis counseling line and proposition to address to a psychologist. Nowadays, this service is available only in the U.S.
To sum all of the above, it should be pointed out that from the biological nature, death can be described as a repeating extinction of life for all living organisms. Sociological researches revealed that dying has greatly influenced human society, being one of the essential reasons of religion genesis and development.
There can be distinguished different sociological aspects of death, such as suicide, abortion prohibition, death penalty, euthanasia and several others based on fear of death. All human fears take their origin from the fear of death. The more one wants to live, the bigger the fear of death is and vice versa.
Different groups of people and society in general tend to accept the so-called ‘death standards’. ‘Death standards’ have historical origin and can be applied only in a particular society in different historical periods.
Researching suicide, abortion prohibition, death penalty, euthanasia, and several others issues based on the fear of death, sociologists came to a conclusion that there is no single opinion existing for all people. Every mentioned issue has its own proponents, as well as opponents, who provide essential arguments to support their point of view.
In any case, sociology of death and dying is a complicated branch of science aimed to reveal the place of death in human consciousness and its influence on human life.