Trigger warning: this post and comments from contributors contain details of death and illness that some people may find distressing.
Lisa Graves, Curator – World Cultures
The second death related exhibition, death: is it your right to choose? opens at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery on Saturday 23 January 2016. It will look at end-of-life options in this country and focus on whether we should allow assisted dying to be legalised.
Whilst researching death: the human experience it became obvious that this was one of the most controversial aspects of contemporary death but also one of the areas that deserved to be better understood by a wider cross-section of the public.
I had heard of people travelling to Switzerland to have help to end their lives, I had heard of a place called Dignitas but I didn’t know that a vote in our Parliament on changing UK law was imminent (an assisted dying bill had its first reading in the House of Lords in June 2015 and a second one was debated in the House of Commons in September 2015). It seemed clear to me that as a museum talking about death and dying, we should give over some of our public space to debate what we as a society think about assisted dying.
Luckily, the Wellcome Trust also thought it was a good idea and gave us money to help construct the exhibition, make films about end-of-life questions and fund various educational and public events aimed at promoting wider public engagement with these topics.
Some people may feel that assisted dying is not a subject a museum should be concerning itself with. I disagree. I think a museum is exactly the right place to challenge preconceptions, to inform in areas of public interest and be a space where different opinions and voices can be heard. It’s important to talk about death and dying, it’s important to talk about things that will affect the way we leave this world – even if they make us feel uncomfortable.
I hope you’ll visit the exhibition, perhaps learn something about the debate and leave your thoughts in our assisted dying survey. The results will be available in the gallery and online, along with further sources of information. The assisted dying debate on 26 January will be a great opportunity to hear from a range of experts and see where the people of Bristol stand on this most challenging of current issues. Bring along your mobile device to get involved in a poll during the debate, and if you can’t make it in person you can listen live to the debate online. You can also watch a film related to one of the speakers from the debate, Lesley Close, who accompanied her brother John to Dignitas in 2003.
What are your views on assisted dying? Tell us in the comments section below.
Watch videos from the exhibition
You may also be interested in the Science and Ethics video from the death: the human experience exhibition:
Results from the exhibition survey
In the exhibition, we ask visitors
After seeing the exhibition, I think that the law in this country should allow assisted dying.
Further reading and information
- Ethical arguments for and against euthanasia on the BBC website
- Inside the Dignitas house article on The Guardian, with photos inside Dignitas
- Dignitas website, where you can see photos of how it looks today
- Further information on the people whose stories are told in the exhibition: Jay Franklin, John Elliott, Craig Ewert and the Coumbias
- Organisations promoting awareness of death and dying: Dying Matters and Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief
- Organisations opposing assisted dying: Care Not Killing, Not Dead Yet UK, Living and Dying Well, Alert, No To Assisted Suicide
- Organisations supporting assisted dying: Campaign for Dignity in Dying, Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, British Humanist Association, Society for Old Age Rational Suicide, Friends at the End