To celebrate MEDEF Summer University’s 20th anniversary, Anne Lise Kjaer was invited to an expert roundtable at HEC business school in Paris. This “Davos-style” event over two days gathered 7,000 specialists in their field and 500 journalists to consider the future in terms of what familiar concepts will disappear and what new ideas will emerge in the next 20 years. In a series of blog posts, we highlight some of the topics discussed.

ATTITUDES TO DEATH AND DYING

One key topic was how we will deal with death and dying in the future. As with all trends, many of the themes debated are linked. For example, the subject of dying weaves naturally into singularity and transhumanism, which we discuss in Will We Soon be Cyborgs?

What will come
– More conversations about death, dying and the meaning of life.
– Assisted dying – will more societies accept euthanasia as a right?

What will disappear
– Funerals as we know them.
– In societies that are increasingly secular – with less people identifying with religion – new rituals are emerging. Most focus on celebrating life rather than mourning death.

SIGNALS OF CHANGE 

 

Death Cafés: A death café is a gathering of strangers who connect online then meet over coffee to talk about death. The format is often to seat people in mixed group tables and give them a list of potential conversation starters. Participants span all age groups. The idea behind death cafés is to demystify death, break down taboos and help people face their fears.

How it all started
– Swiss-born anthropologist Bernard Crettaz hosted the first cafés in 2004 to talk about death.
– The concept was picked up by Londoner Jon Underwood, who held the first UK death café in 2011.
– Since 2004, more than 6,000 death café events have taken place in 55 countries.

 

Death Doulas: The death doula is part of a growing movement of nurses, social workers and volunteers who are pushing for greater companionship and guidance for people who are dying and their relatives. A Huffington Post Article in 2017 – A Growing Movement of ‘Death Doulas’ Is Rethinking How We Die – described how death doulas are emerging. They are also called death midwives or palliative care doulas.

This movement is coinciding with the trend of people reimagining what death can be like for themselves and their families. We want what technology and medicine can offer in terms of palliative care, but with the comfort of human care and companionship.

 

Eco and Woodland Burials: Woodland burials and eco-conscious burials are on the rise across the western world. A 2015 study by the US Funeral and Memorial Information Council found that 64% of adults aged 40 plus would consider a ‘green’ burial – up from 43% just five years earlier.

Rise of Alternative Burials: Changing attitudes, and land use issues surrounding urban graveyards and cemeteries, have inspired this trend. Many are trying to bypass rising costs associated with dying or want to save their children from the expense.

 

 

Willow Coffin Making: Across the UK you can attend workshops, weaving your own coffin suitable for woodland burials. The coffins have a ‘use by’ date of 20 years.

Rising Funeral Costs: The traditional funeral industry is worth $16bn in 2017 in the US while the UK market is £2bn. Royal London National Funeral Cost Index 2017 – The Economist 2018

 

EUTHANASIA
Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Colombia. In Belgium and Luxembourg even children have the right to request euthanasia. In 2017, Gallup found that support for euthanasia is strong in societies valuing individualism. For instance, 73% of Americans supports euthanasia.

Minors’ rights to Euthanasia: Three children have been euthanised in Belgium since the law was passed. The youngest was nine. The Belgian Federation 2018

A Rise Across Age Groups: The annual number of euthanasia cases across all age groups has multiplied almost five-fold in ten years in Belgium. The Telegraph 2018

Stricter Laws in Belgium:  A person suffering from dementia was euthanised without prior consent, leading many doctors to call for stricter laws.

 

LIFE EXPECTANCY
Living Longer: Since 1840, life expectancy at birth has risen about three months every year. The Medical Futurist 2016

Nordic Longevity: In 1840, life expectancy at birth in Sweden was 45 years for women; today it’s 83 years. The Atlantic 2016

US declining life expectancy: Only in the US has life expectancy declined for the past two years! The Economist 2018

 

CASES

Bios Urn for Woodland Burials: The Bios is in biodegradable materials, and respects the environment. The urn grows a tree from the remaining ashes of a loved one.

 

Re-imaging memorial rituals: Elysium Space offers to new types of memorial:

1) Shooting Star Memorial: The Shooting Star Memorial delivers a symbolic portion of your loved one’s remains to Earth’s orbit. Next memorial in collaboration with the Star II Mission aboard SpaceX Falcon 9.

2) Lunar Memorial: The Lunar Memorial delivers a symbolic portion of remains to the surface of the Moon. Elysium Space is partnering with Astrobotic lunar mission.

 

Suicide machine: “Sarco Capsule is a 3D printed machine, allowing anyone with an access code to ‘peacefully and reliably’ end their life with the press of a button.” Exit International 2018

A Difficult Conversation Made Easy: Sartaj Singh Anand’s death workshop exposes our preconceived ideas so we can face alternative beliefs and thinking. If death is the mirror of our lives, how can we cultivate mindfulness and sensitivity around death, so it’s no longer an event but a long-term mental and physical process? TedX Arendahl 2017

IMAGES

Café: Photograph by Kris Atomic via Unsplash
Coffin Weaving Workshop: Nora Kennedy and Martin Jakes of Stroud, Gloucestershire by SWNS.com
Eco Urn: Bios by urnabios.com
Elysium Space: Photo by elysiumspace.com
Sarco, euthanasia concept: Exit International by exitinternational.net/sarco/

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