Alternative ideas you can use to start conversation or to add interest to speeches or presentations


Death Letters

Death and Dying

Need more quotes? Extracts from books on Death


Understanding IQ and how it relates to intellectual ability is an important line of research. Using it to determine who lives and dies in a state with capital punishment is a gross abuse (18 August, p 6).

The decision on the use of the death penalty is a societal decision. It has no scientific basis and science should not be used to ease people's consciences, or to justify their decisions, because they feel uncomfortable about killing other (less able) citizens.

Dead Bodies

Gareth Jones questions the use of unclaimed bodies for medical science, and is a perfect example of why it has become so difficult, and at times impossible, to get anything of any importance done (19 April, p 26).

One would have to look long and hard to find a more straightforward and sensible use of an unclaimed dead body, yet here we have an educated person who takes issue with this practice since, rather obviously, there has been no informed consent.

Look no further than this bit of nonsense to understand why consensus can rarely, if ever, be obtained regarding truly controversial issues.


Gareth Jones's emotive plea on behalf of unclaimed dead bodies (19 April, p 26) is completely unconvincing.

Who cares about them? Certainly not the living, otherwise the bodies would be claimed. And certainly not the dead, for they are long past caring. Even if someone were to care during life, their wishes have no standing in law since the disposal of a body is at the discretion of the executor of the person's will – none, in the case of those who lie unclaimed.

It is certainly worth discussing whether dissection is the best way to teach anatomy to medical students, but this isn't the purpose of Jones's article. If anything is to be done for what Jones calls these vulnerable people, surely it is better for help to be given during their lifetime when they might gain some advantage from it, rather than beating one's breast about their fate once they are dead.

End of Life Care

You report on the growing number of people from the UK, especially those with neurological diseases, going to clinics in Switzerland to end their lives (23 August, p 7). One reason might be that many people worry they will have a painful, undignified death. Some relatives remain traumatised after seeing their dying husband or wife screaming for help to ease their suffering.

The Royal College of Physicians says there is a lack of palliative care in hospitals, particularly at night and weekends. Hospices relieve pain, but there aren't enough of them. No wonder there are calls for doctor-assisted help to die. It seems the UK authorities want to keep control, and won't allow patients to choose this option themselves, thus driving people to the Swiss clinics.

Dealing With Parent's Death

(23yo girl asked Reddit for advice after widowed mother died suddenly without a will)

You are not liable for any debts of your mother. Your mother's estate will be liable for her debts. Do not sign any paperwork that has anything regarding your financial liability. Do not agree to undertake any of the costs of your mother's treatment.

If you don't have access to funds to hire an attorney, you can try to probate the estate yourself. There is a learning curve, but its not impossible, or for that matter particularly difficult. The difficulty lies in not understanding the terminology and the process, not some secret law tricks only lawyers have access to. There are many law books and help from webpages you can research.

If you and your sister are living in your mother's home you want to prioritize payment of the mortgage and utilities. It is very hard to get out from under foreclosure proceedings, and much more costly in the long run to let those bills fall to the estate's responsibility and have to dig your way out, than it is to maintain the status quo, if possible. Also paying the household bills is arguably a "loan" to the estate, which also makes you a creditor to the estate. Therefore, keep meticulous records of any expenses you do pay.

Never pay the credit card debts, they are unsecured, and sit at the bottom of the debts paid out by the probate court. Ignore all the hospital bills (they'll be coming several months after the hospital stay), except as a debt of the Estate.

When my mom died, she was renting so we moved out quickly. When my grandfather died, it was a different story. Bottom line, expect 6 months or more before the house is sold and your hands washed of the matter. Here is why this timeline is important. If you are going to vacate the house, secure the belongings! This is extremely important, as an empty house in a neighborhood is noticed and will become a target not only for thieves, but also for family members who think "your mom wanted them to have this thing or that." Get a storage location, don't let anyone know where it is (other than heirs), and move her stuff ASAP. Speaking of heirs, they should all ideally be involved in the move-out and everything that is worth over $100 or has some kind of sentimental value should be logged.

Cleaning out your mother's stuff is going to be extremely unpleasant emotionally. Have friends or family assist. I won't bullshit you. This is going to be a trying time. There is one upside: going forward, you'll have a lot of perspective about what real difficulty is and you'll more easily recognize trivial problems for what they are. It's not much solace, but it's something.

Assisted Death

Philosophically, it might at first blush be tempting to think of a person who self-ingests a prescription of life-ending medication as committing suicide, but it is no more a suicide than if a person jumps from a high floor of a burning skyscraper rather than be consumed by flames. The question for these people isn't whether they will die, but whether they can choose the conditions of their own death.

The states that protect this process distinguish it legally from assisted suicide, which may still be illegal. In the case of terminally ill patients who are able to end their life, the coroner may list the terminal illness, not suicide, as the cause of death. And insurance companies do not consider these deaths as suicides when deciding whether to pay out benefits under an insurance policy.

Psychologically and medically, calling the process suicide hurts patients and their families and does not reflect best medical practice. Major organisations in the fields of psychology and medicine support this view.

"Assisted suicide" is thus inaccurate and inappropriate. Better terms include patient-directed dying, physician-assisted dying, or "physician aid in dying".

Sir, The main objection to a change in the law is that it would compromise patient safety (letter, June 3). For example, in depression a patient may ask for their life to be terminated only to change their mind on a return to normal mood. Some might feel that they should seek death so as to relieve the burden they might impose on their relatives. The proponents of assisted suicide talk of “necessary safeguards” but exactly what these might be is not clear — and even they will admit that none would be foolproof.

Although the pleas of those who seek to have their lives terminated at a time of their own choosing are truly heartrending, the permissions they seek for themselves would potentially endanger the lives of us all. In any democratic society, where a perceived benefit to a few might endanger the safety of many, the law must side with the many. A change in the law would not be a slippery slope but a precipice over which we would jump, as a nation, into danger.

Sir, David Aaronovitch’s arguments for changing the law seem to boil down to “make no mistake, it’s coming” and “if you support other pieces of libertarian legislation, you should support this one” (Opinion, May 28). In this enlightened age we do not buy our views on social issues as a package: thinking people consider each issue carefully on its merits.

The Scottish parliament this week rejected legalisation of assisted suicide after a committee examined the proposal in detail. This is a complex issue which must be considered calmly and with care. If parliament is to be persuaded to legalise assisted suicide, it needs to be shown clear evidence that the law requires change and, if that is the case, that what would be put in its place would be better. That has not happened.

Sir, Talk of the “right to die” is misleading; David Aaronovitch wants death on demand. He proposes no safeguards; in his world we would abandon suicide prevention and accede to a request at face value.

The very doctors who campaigned for years to protect women and children from abuse, argued for equality, and have never opposed abortion are mostly the very ones who oppose physician suicide. Like the Scottish parliament, they are all too aware of the dangers. Doctors are already desperately busy — many are exhausted trying to provide good care. They cannot be asked to prevent suicide in some, yet be the gatekeepers and suppliers of lethal suicide drugs to others on request.

Sir, David Aaronovitch is right. There is fear over the consequences of an extension of our personal autonomy. My fear is of not being allowed to live when I am no longer considered useful to the state. Where is the limit to doctors killing patients once it is legalised? I am equally frightened of the state or a committee of the great and good or an individual doctor setting that limit.

Sir, The tired old complaint about a slippery slope needs kicking into touch (“Why the right to kill must not be made legal”, Opinion, June 1). Doctors have been hastening death for years. They are not doing this at the request either of cost-cutting bureaucrats or of greedy relatives. Their motive is, as Melanie Phillips wants it to be, compassion. There may now be too much emphasis, generally, on personal autonomy but no one is suggesting that doctors be required to kill people just because they decide, for whatever reason, that they would rather be dead.

Sir, When parliament in the Suicide Act 1961 decriminalised the act of taking one’s own life, surely it should have either eliminated criminality for any aider or abettor, or at least have downgraded the culpability for assisting the suicide. Anomalously, or at least alien to the law, the draftsman laid down that any assistant to the suicide should be treated as criminally responsible and receive a burdensome maximum prison sentence of 14 years. Was that then, and is it now, fair?

Talking To The Dead

(Original post: Drunk man tries to dig up his father's corpse so they can finish an argument because he really needed to have the last word)

I know how he feels. It's always the next day before I can come up with a decent rebuttal.

Damn dude, just pee on the grave. It gets the point across.

I nearly met Elvis once but the shovel broke,

My taxi driver in Bali [they tend to adopt you for your entire stay] said he buried his old man in the back yard until there was a "holy day" where he could be dug up and buried properly. Said it was fairly standard practice. IIRC it was something to do with certain lucky numbers and certain days of the week coinciding.

No disrespect to the humorous intent of your post, but belief in an afterlife doesn't necessarily negate atheism. Just saying.

And more generally, belief in the afterlife located at the place of burial tends to negate just about everything except Egyptian mythology.

Heck, I talk to my ex like she can hear me, and she's not dead yet.

Freeze After Death

(New Scientist)

If a person close to death is frozen in the hope of being reanimated one day, why should somebody in the far future revive them? If a person frozen in 1816 were revived today, what contribution would they make to society, other than providing source material for social historians? The UK government is reluctant to admit a few thousand Syrian refugees, citing a burden they will place on the state while they find their feet. But they are well-equipped to contribute to modern society, having been brought up in it. That wouldn’t be the case for those who were revived. As for setting up a trust fund to pay for your revived future: my hypothetical frozen Victorian might have put their money into the East India Company, or maybe that thriving steam engine business run by Messrs Boulton and Watt…

Imagine getting a call from Life Extensions R Us in 2116. They have just revived your great-great-great uncle Kevin, who died in 2020. His pancreatic cancer is cured, though he still has some arthritis. Before being frozen, Kevin set up a trust fund on which he proposed to live after his revival, but 90 years of poor investment has left its value after inflation the same as your children’s pocket money. They would like to know when you will be along to collect him.