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The discursive construction of the good death and the dying person: A discourse-theoretical analysis of Belgian newspaper articles on medical end-of-life decision making

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The concept of a good death is central to contemporary discourses on death and dying; it is also frequently used in contexts of end-of-life decision-making. We argue that in and through the medical-revivalist discourse, which challenges the idea that curative treatment is necessary beneficial and constructs death as something familiar, a good death is discursively organised around two nodal clusters: control, autonomy and dignity, and awareness and heroism. Moreover, we also argue that — within this framework of the medical-revivalist discourse — political contestation exists over the articulation of these nodal points. Especially two social movements, the right to die movement and the palliative care movement, have been at the forefront of the political struggle over the good death. In this article, we use a discourse-theoretical approach to develop an analytical model of the construction of the good death and the present-day political struggles over these constructions. This model then allows us to identify and analyse the constructions of the good death in the North Belgian newspaper coverage on three 2008 euthanasia cases. Using discourse-theoretical analysis (DTA) (Carpentier & De Cleen, 2007), our analysis shows that the articulations of the right to die variation are privileged in the newspaper coverage. There is a celebration of the extraordinariness and heroism of the dying subject who autonomously chooses on how and when to die and who preferably dies in a state of full awareness so that he can die with dignity. This privileging is often accompanied by the symbolic annihilation of many other ways of dying. Consequentially, the richness of ways of dying that characterize contemporary social realities becomes curtailed in the analysed newspaper representations.
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Keywords: Belgium; discourse theory; discourse-theoretical analysis; end-of-life decision making; good death; media representation; newspaper coverage

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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