De Spelder and Strickland (1983) say that the understanding of death is communicated through the process of socialization by which children learn the concepts and conversations that have value in modern society (p.64). Geoffrey Goer believes that there is evidence to suggest that death has become a taboo and has replaced sex as the unspoken subject of today’s society. Goer says children “are initiated in their early years to love (the concept of sex); But they no longer see their grandfather and express astonishment, they are told that he is resting in a beautiful garden among the flowers” (Walter, p.92-3, 1991). In this essay I will discuss whether death is what Geoffrey Goer suggests, a ‘taboo’ subject within Western Society. Firstly, I will outline what I mean by the terms ‘death’ and ‘taboo’, after which I will place reasons why academics find death to be tabooed and why some argue why death is not tabooed subject. Finally from the analysis of these arguments, I will propose from the evidence, whether in fact death is actually ‘tabooed’.
Before arguments are presented it is beneficial to outline and define what ‘taboo’ and ‘death’ mean. ‘Taboo’ is defined as “something prohibited, forbidden, by custom rather than by law. It may be something too terrible even to think of, it reality denied, or more weakly, it simply not be mentioned in conversation” (Walter, p.295, 1991). From this definition, we can see that a taboo is when there is an absence communication due to cautioning, of whatever subject, but in this case, death. The definition of ‘Death’ in the biomedical sense is the absence of life, whereby somebody is no longer living anymore. Furthermore, death is also accompanied by a ‘certification’ by a physician that “meets society’s need for verifying that one of its members has been lost” (Kastenbaum, p.33, 2001).
The Medicalization of death has bought many academics in the past to argue why death has become a taboo subject. Historically at the late eighteenth western culture experienced a medicalization where the deathbed became at the control of the doctor rather than the dying person, the priest and their own families (Walter, p.12, 1994). The hospital was not used before this point as a place for the dying, but rather a shelter for the poor, but now it has changed into a medical centre for people to come to be healed or struggle against death. Now Aries (1974) argues that this change in functionality marked the beginning for the hospital to be a designated spot for dying (p.87-8). This outcome of medicalization marked according to Walter (1991), the end of a spiritual passage and the birth of a more natural, secular passage (p.12). De Spelder (1983) adds; around the turn of the century, the Romantic attitude toward death weakened and the care of the dying and the dead would be delegated to the professionals, and the process of death would become no longer a familiar element of life (p.64). Aries (1974) more...