Christian perspectives on death and dying

A new project led by Cardiff University will provide opportunities for Christians from a wide range of backgrounds and different churches to explore issues around death and dying.

As talking about death becomes less taboo and, at the same time, advances in medical technologies are making end of life decisions more complex, the initiative will examine the range of Christian perspectives on the issue.

Funded by York grant-making charity Paristamen CIO, Christian Perspectives on Death and Dying includes a series of conferences to be held around the UK to promote public discussion of death and dying. Topics explored include:

  • How people’s values, beliefs and religious faith inform their wishes about care at the end of life?
  • What an ‘Advance Decision’ is and what the different Christian perspectives on refusing life-prolonging treatment are?
  • The social, ethical and theological debates around active ‘Assisted Dying?

The year-long project will be launched with the first two public conferences in Gloucester (5th November) and Cardiff (16th November) involving a wide range of speakers from religious leaders to experts in medical and legal aspects of end-of-life care.

Confirmed speakers across the two conferences include:

  • Rev’d Prof. Paul Badham (Trinity St David)
  • Rev. Gareth Powell (Secretary of the Methodist Conference)
  • Rev. Dr. Royse Murphy (Diocese of Gloucester)
  • Canon Rosie Harper (Diocese of Oxford)
  • Professor Malcolm Johnson (University of Bath)
  • Robert Preston (Dignity in Dying),
  • Usha Grieve (‘Compassion in Dying’ charity)
  • Professor Sue Wilkinson (‘Advance Decision Assistance’)
  • Professor Jenny Kitzinger and Professor Celia Kitzinger (Coma and Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre, Universities of Cardiff/York).

The project is led by Professor Jenny Kitzinger of Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. Previously, Professor Kitzinger curated the ‘Before I Die’ arts festival in Cardiff in 2014 and is an expert in the ethical and legal difficulties faced by families involved in decision-making for relatives in long-term coma.

Professor Kitzinger said: “This new ‘Christian Perspectives on Death and Dying’ initiative is part of an international movement to address the challenges raised by 21st century medicine and reflect on the ethical and social issues we all face. This is an opportunity to come together to reflect on our values, beliefs and faith, and how they shape the choices we make – as well as learning about different theological perspectives on these issues. We hope this day will provide crucial information about end of life choices and open up the conversation about death.”

The project is being co-ordinated by Julie Latchem, a Social Scientist and neurological physiotherapist studying for her doctorate at Cardiff University. She added: “We are heartened by the level of interest and engagement the initiative is receiving from the Christian community. Many people are telling us they wish death was talked about more, and consider the project to be of the utmost importance.”

All are welcome at the events which will include a panel discussion of ‘Advance Decisions’ (‘Living Wills’), debate about ‘Assisted Dying’, as well as art, music and shadow puppet theatre.

Places for the event in Gloucester which runs from 11.30am-6.00pm, at the Church of St Paul and St Stephen, Tredworth, Gloucester can be reserved here.

Places for the Cardiff event which runs from 9.30am until 5.00pm and will be held in the Temple of Peace and Health, Cathays Park, Cardiff can be booked here.

Professor Jenny Kitzinger

Director of Research: Impact and Engagment and Co-Director of the Cardiff-York Coma and Disorders of Conciousness Research Centre