Friday, 29 June 2012

Year zero for death in the UK

If you're interested in the UK's way of death, I would recommend watching the above 30 minute documentary. Its a hidden camera expose of the UK's biggest funeral provider, Co-operative Funeral Care.

The programme is a sensationalist hatchet job but succeeds in landing some real blows. The Co-op certainly gave the programme makers enough opportunity to do this. Many viewers didn't like their industrial scale refrigeration units for bodies. I think everyone was shocked by the blatant up-selling and deception of people looking to make arrangements for their dead. 

This seems to have had a nuclear impact on the funeral industry. To the UK's alternative death culture, the Co-op has always been the personification of wrong. The programme struck a blow against the Co-op and got people talking about death - surely a step in the right direction?

Yes. It does feel really significant, a potential turning point, as can be seen from the excellent coverage by the Good Funeral Guide. It feels like a moment of change, hopefully for the better.

Some changes are already evident. Labour MPs were 'shocked and disgusted' and have tabled an early day motion. (I guess its a nice opportunity for MPs to focus disgust away from themselves). Charles Cowling (chief voice of sanity about death and author of the Good Funeral Guide) appeared in the documentary and led the debate. This week he, and with him many of those who hope for a better way of death, seemed to hold the momentum and power against the forces of corporatism. This is an unprecedented and thrilling turn around.

The fall-out from this will continue for some time and Co-op will continue be under intense scrutiny. I guess my wish to see massive change this very week is unrealistic and impatient, but it is certainly there. This is because getting a funeral right really, really matters.

A funeral is a one-shot deal - there is no going back. And, as Charles pointed out, those buying funerals are really vulnerable. Many will be under massive emotional pressure, many exhausted by the events that lead up to death. Most won't know much about funerals work. Many won't know what the person who died wanted. Many will be worried about the cost.

Taken all together the kind of practices the documentary showed certainly looked inappropriate and callous.

Its easy to put the Co-op in the stocks and hurl rotten fruit at their beery, complacent faces. But why does this kind of stuff happen when it so clearly shouldn't? And crappy funeral directing (alongside brilliant funeral directing) can be found throughout the land - sometimes within one company (and, yes, even within the Co-op).

Ask the undertakers and they say they're doing us a favour. They say we don't want to know what really happens, thats why we hire them. They say we'll find it upsetting. They say we can't cope.

Is this right? This is what the Good Funeral Guide are asking. In a post entitled We Know Best they have a poll asking 'Is it right to withhold certain information from the bereaved'. I urge you to vote. Currently 30% say 'yes'.

At Death Cafe we believe in the importance of talking about death. I think that this can only help improve the quality of funerals. If we're not afraid to talk about death we're better placed to demand our rights from funeral directors who think they know better.

I've also been working with the Natural Death Centre on a more direct way of bringing about change. We're putting the finishing touches to a website called Funeral Advisor. This will allow people to write reviews of funeral directors. Our intention is that this will support people to find excellent funeral directors who are right for them. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say your piece.