In postindustrial societies, people must consciously define their individuality through the choices they make. Recently, death has become yet another realm of personal choice, as well as an occasional arena for political debate, making a "good death" one in which we die in our "own way." Does culture matter in these decisions? "Final Days" represents a new perspective on end-of-life decision-making, arguing that culture does make a difference but not as a checklist of customs or as the source of a moral code. The final stage of life is as rooted as any other in political and economic constraints and social relationships. Policy, technology, and institutions - as well as biology - set limits on what is possible, defining the set of options from which people choose. Culture provides a vocabulary of words, metaphors, and images that can be drawn on to interpret experiences and create a sense of what it means to die well. Grounded in rich ethnographic data, the book offers a superb examination of how policy and meaning frame the choices Japanese make about how to die. As an essay in descriptive bioethics, it engages an extensive literature in the social sciences and bioethics to examine some of the answers people have constructed to end-of-life issues. Through interviews and case studies in hospitals and homes, Susan Orpett Long offers a window on the ways in which "ordinary" people respond to serious illness and the process of dying.
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Susan Orpett Long is professor of anthropology at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.Review:
"In Final Days Susan Long has given us a superb look into end-of-life decision-making in Japan.... The book is rich in ethnographic detail and very well written.... [It is] a remarkably nuanced and detailed examination of how people in Japan deal with conflicts between desires, for example, to die at home surrounded by family and the reality that most people in postindustrial societies will die in hospitals, surrounded by, as Long notes, medical equipment and staff, with family standing on the sidelines.... Final Days [should be] required reading for anyone interested in medical ethics. But the book also is an outstanding entry into the ethnographic literature on Japan." - Pacific Affairs"
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