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Memento mori revisited: unravelling the role of choice regarding death and dying in old age

  • Start: 2020
  • Status: ongoing

People increasingly wish to have some control over the time and the manner of their dying. This implies various complex choices. This research analyses how our relationship to death is changing and how this is impacting our life, old age, and the manner of our dying. Els van Wijngaarden received an NWO Veni grant to conduct this study.


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Description

Our attitude towards death is undergoing a fascinating change. A growing group of older people is determined to exercise choice and control over the time and manner of dying, resulting in a new awareness of death. The Veni-project of Els van Wijngaarden breaks scientific ground by exploring the impact of the growing emphasis on choice regarding death upon how we live towards the end of life. It unravels the socio-cultural and relational dynamics related to such choices.


To achieve this aim, the project is divided into three interrelated subprojects:


  1. Drawing on the work of Ricoeur and Taylor, I formulate a philosophical account of choice that focusses on its socio-cultural and relational embeddedness, including an analysis of the relation between choice and social imaginaries (understood as shared notions and images of a certain socio-cultural group, involving moral claims about basic values of society). 
  2. Through discourse analysis of journalistic content I empirically analyse social imaginaries of ‘death in old age’. Furthermore, adopting a longitudinal empirical-phenomenological approach I explore the lived experience of choice-making processes regarding death and dying, by interviewing older people and their relatives, trying to capture the temporal and contextualised nature of such processes.
  3. Finally, combining the empirical findings (subproject-2) with the philosophical insights (subproject-1) I analyse the underlying moral experience.
This results in a new ethical theory, aiming to refine our moral discernment regarding the complexity of the choice-making processes in question, and provide new views and vocabulary. My established expertise in the field of self-directed dying in old age, coupled with my considerable experience with empirical-phenomenological research and interdisciplinarity put me in a unique positon to conduct this study. Alongside its academic relevance, my Veni-findings will inform social policy makers, health professionals and the public on ways to deal with these actual choices regarding death and dying.

Researcher

Dr. Els van Wijngaarden

(Co-)financing

This project is supported by a grant from the NWO Veni talent programme.

Also see

Contact

Els van Wijngaarden, e.vanwijngaarden@uvh.nl.

People increasingly wish to have some control over the time and the manner of their dying. This implies various complex choices. This research analyses how our relationship to death is changing and how this is impacting our life, old age, and the manner of our dying.