Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: The twentieth and twenty-first centuries brought many technological, pharmaceutical, and therapeutic changes that influenced the legal and ethical structures in which death, dying, and bereavement are being experienced globally. Research addressing these dynamics, more commonly comes from clinical, epidemiological or psychological fields. However, anthropologists have much to contribute to the understanding of this transformational landscape. Indeed, anthropologists are able to shed light on concealed problems, disregarded groups and/or complex phenomena. This session, organized by the Dying and Bereavement Special Interest Group of the Society for Medical Anthropology, will include a set of papers that examine diverse aspects of dying and bereavement in the context of changing biomedical, social, and cultural climates. Moreover, these presentations will offer ethnographic insights, bringing invisible actors, such as respiratory therapists, to the fore, and framing unthinkable events, such as maternal mortality, with critical awareness. Likewise, increasing medical technology and normalization of their usage raise salient dilemmas about having to choose between life and death, such as interrogating the notion of choice itself and also asking who is permitted to make those choices. As well, we will question what it means to have a “good death” or a “better death.” And, we will grapple with the meanings of terms like “dignity,” “autonomy,” “justice,” and “quality of life.” Their repeated usage in biomedical, ethical, and policy discourses, which often is removed from deeper analysis of their meaning, their multiple implications, and their contextual inflections is problematic. Therefore, ethnographic work has an important place -- one that is positioned alongside patients, families, or mourners; situated within institutions such as hospitals, laboratories, or palliative care contexts; or industries such as the funeral complex. It is able to scale the micro interpersonal encounter and connect to the larger upstream prevailing forces and apprend the discursive formations that drive change. This session will take on some enduring and emergent issues in the field and will conclude with members of the panel and those attending discussing these vexing issues concerning death and dying in today’s climate.