Results of a new ComRes opinion poll commissioned by Dying Matters, a coalition backed by several major charities which promotes discussion of end-of-life issues, shows that only 15% want to live forever.
The poll revealed that more young people than old wish for immortality – 21% of 18-24s against 12% of over-65s; most want to live into their 80s, and fear of death declines. As people age, they increasingly believe quality of life is more important than longevity, with 81% of over-65s taking this view, against 58% of 18-24 year olds.
This shows that people tend to grow more reconciled to the inevitable, others suggest lingering anxieties about the manner of one's final departure, and inhibition about discussing death.
People are more frightened of dying in pain (83%) than of being informed that they are being dying in the first place (67%). But most say they have used euphemisms, such as “passed away", to avoid talking directly of death, indicating a taboo that can stand in the way of people taking care of their own dying. Few people have discussed with their families the type of funeral they would want, and 36% have never discussed whether they have a will. Two-thirds never discuss where they would like to die or what care they would want. Dying in hospital is a prospect that frightens 59% of people and, is almost as dreaded as dying alone (62%) or falling victim to a violent crime (61%). By way of contrast, fears of redundancy (38%), bankruptcy (41%) and divorce (39%) are nothing like as widespread. Women are a lot more likely than men to have had discussions with their parents, but both men and women are more likely to have spoken with their partner than their parents.
Thomas Hughes-Hallett, of the charity Marie Curie, said, “The historic reluctance of people to discuss their own death, reflected in this poll, has contributed to the fact that while the overwhelming majority of us would like to die at home and few of us would like to die in hospital, the reality is well over half of us will continue to die in hospital, precisely the place that when asked we would not want to be. Earlier discussions between patients, families and doctors would allow better planning and allow more people to achieve their choice.”
Whitehall added that more people should take charge of their own death, and a 2008 strategy paper argued that encouraging people to discuss the issue was one important way of achieving that aim. Eve Richardson, chief executive of Dying Matters, says the poll underlines the urgency of the task. She said, “Although someone dies every minute, our research has found that many people still avoid talking about dying. But our research shows the public looks to health professionals to take a lead, with a majority saying them should ask them how they would like to be cared for through to their death, the that moment a terminal illness is first diagnosed.”
Professor Mayur Lakhani, a GP who is also the chair of Dying Matters, urges for pilot schemes that could train doctors to raise questions about arrangements for dying. “There are GPs who feel inhibited in raising the subject themselves, but our increasing experience is that with a little advice they can gain a great deal of confidence. “