"Readiness is all”: anticipating death in the U.K.
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This thesis explores some of the different ways in which people anticipate their dying in the U.K. Through an ethnographic exploration of an arts initiative, a social movement, a legal case, and a new law, this thesis asks the question: how do people seek to gain recognition for their dying in the 21st Century? It is argued here that this recognition is deemed important because it is the last opportunity for people’s unique identity, as they perceive it, to be reflected back at them in the faces of those who witness their dying and who stand alongside them. This witnessing is often performed in public spaces, for example: a hospice day centre; in the media spotlight; at a right-to-die conference; or in a court of law, and it is in these places where people hope that their individualised dying self will be authenticated. This thesis focuses on what happens in these public spaces and asks whether recognition is always possible. It concludes by suggesting that there are some things which are perhaps too private, too particular, and too uncertain to be recognised or authenticated in the way in which people might wish. Section One of this thesis focuses on the activities of an arts charity which works in hospices in the U.K. and tries to elicit testimony from dying patients. Section Two focuses on the right-to-die movement: its history, politics, and the activists which bring it to life. Section Three focuses on the legal regulation of death through careful examination of a legal challenge and a new law which both involve people making anticipatory decisions about how they wish to die. As this thesis shows, people’s dying testimony can take many different forms (artistic, legal, bureaucratic), and it can be represented in terms of suffering or transcendence. But the overwhelming desire of the people who feature in this thesis is to have the particularity of their lives, which is mirrored in the particularity of their deaths, publicly recognised.