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Thanatology

Thanatology

Thanatology is the study of dying, death, and grief. This study encompasses thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and events. Contributors to the growing knowledge of death-related phenomena include social, behavioral, and biomedical researchers as well as economists, health-care providers, historians, literary critics, philosophers, and theologians.

The word thanatology is derived from Greek mythology. Thanatos (death) and Hypnos (sleep) were twin deities. It was not until 1903 that distinguished scientist Elie Metchnikoff called for the establishment of a scientific discipline devoted to the study of death. He suggested that the life sciences would not be complete unless systematic attention was also given to death. Nevertheless, only a few scholars and educators followed his lead. Medical students had their obligatory encounters with cadavers but received almost no instruction in care for the dying, nor was death included in the curriculum for students of other professions and sciences.

The situation started to change following World War II, with its many casualties and haunted memories. Existential philosophers redirected attention to life-and-death issues. Researchers such as Herman Feifel challenged Western society's taboo on death, opening the way for improved communication. An international suicide-prevention effort responded to the anguish both of people contemplating self-destruction and their family and friends. The hospice movement introduced improved means of caring for dying people, and grief-support groups provided comfort to many who had been alone in their distress. Death education overcame early resistance to become a significant resource in both formal and informal settings. Thantological challenges in the twenty-first century include the emerging issues of physician-assisted death, children's rights, and lifestyle behaviors such as excessive drinking, use of tobacco products, and unsafe operation of motor vehicles that contribute to more than a million deaths a year in the United States.

See also: Anthropological Perspective; Cadaver Experiences; Children and Their Rights in Life and Death Situations; Death Education; Feifel, Herman; Hospice Option; Psychology; Saunders, Cicely; Suicide Types: Physician-Assisted Suicide

Bibliography

Feifel, Herman. The Meaning of Death. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959.

McGinnis, J. M., and W. H. Foege. "Actual Causes of Death in the United States." Journal of the American Medical Associations 270 (1993):2207-2212.

Metchnikoff, Elie. The Nature of Man. New York: G. P. Putnam and Sons, 1959.

ROBERT KASTENBAUM

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"Thanatology." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . Encyclopedia.com. 27 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Thanatology." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/thanatology

"Thanatology." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . Retrieved July 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/thanatology

Thanatology

Thanatology

Thanatology is the science that studies the events surrounding death, as well as the social, legal, and psychological aspects of death. The term thanatology originates from the Greek thanatos, meaning death and logos, for study or discourse. Thanatologists may study the cause of deaths, legal implications of death such as the rights and destiny of the remains or requirements for autopsy , and social aspects surrounding death. Grief, customs surrounding burial and remembrance, and other social attitudes about death are frequent subjects of interest for thanatologists.

From the forensic point of view, causes of death may be due to natural causes, such as from lethal disease or advanced age), accidental causes, such as falls, plain crashes, fires, drowning, or automobile accidents , criminal actions, such as murder , neglect, malpractice, or other irresponsible acts by third parties, and finally, suicide. Thanatology also overlaps forensics when it focuses on the changes that occur in the body in the period near death and afterwards.

Some social issues explored by thanatologists, such as euthanasia (the merciful induction of death to stop suffering) and abortion (termination of a pregnancy) are subject to much ethical and legal controversy. These issues are legal in some countries, while considered a crime in other countries. In Brazil, for instance, although outright euthanasia is illegal, patients have the right to refuse medical treatment and artificial life supporting procedures, if they sign a legal statement in advance while of sound mind.

Rights over the corpse of the deceased is also determined by law in most developed countries, as well as burial, cremation, and embalming requirements. Clinical autopsies are generally required in cases of unexplained or violent death, suspicion of suicide, drug overdose, or when requested by the family of the deceased due to suspicion of medical error or when confirmation of certain diseases is sought.

The thanatology community is usually composed of a variety of health professionals including psychiatrists and other physicians such as forensic pathologists, advanced practice nurses, and veterinarians, along with sociologists and psychologists.

see also Assassination; Autopsy; Body marks; Coroner; Death, cause of; Death, mechanism of; Decomposition; Drowning (signs of); Entomology; Ethical issues; Exhumation; Fluids; Medical examiner; Parasitology; Pathogens; Pathology; Saliva; Semen and sperm; Serology; Skeletal analysis; Time of death; Toxicology.

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"Thanatology." World of Forensic Science. . Encyclopedia.com. 27 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Thanatology

Thanatology

The formal study of the nature of death and dying. Prior to the demarkation of thanatology as a new area of specialization, the study of various aspects of death had been included in psychology and parapsychology. Parapsychological research has concentrated on three human experiences that seem to be part of the death experience: 1) the sensation of floating out of the body; 2) feelings of peace or wholeness; and 3) meetings with someone who has died previously. Studies of what today is called the near-death experience have been made by psychical researchers since the nineteenth century, often under the label death-bed experiences.

Significant in defining the new field of thanatology has been the work of physician Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, author of the book On Death and Dying (1970), whose work began with a concern for the grief process she frequently encountered in counseling with dying patients. Her continued interest led her to questions of survival of death, traditionally an area of psychical studies. She is the founder of Shanti Nilaya, a healing and growth center in Virginia. Among the leading centers focused on research in thanatology are the International Institute for the Study of Death in Florida and the International Association for Near-Death Studies.

Sources:

Kastenbaum, Robert, ed. Between Life and Death. New York: Springer Publishing, 1979.

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan Co., 1969.

. To Live Until We Say Goodbye. Englewood Cilffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1978.

Osis, Karlis, and Erlendur Haraldsson. At the Hour of Death. New York: Avon Books, 1977.

Ring, Kenneth. Heading Toward OmegaIn Search of the Meaning of the Near-Death Experience. New York: William Morrow, 1984.

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