The final taboo: few Britons know loved ones’ dying wishes

More than half of Britons in relationships are unaware of their partners’ end-of-life wishes because we still find it difficult to talk about death, a new survey has revealed.

The study, published by the Dying Matters Coalition, shows millions of us fail to make adequate plans for our deaths and don’t know the wishes of our loved ones because talking about dying is still too much of a taboo.

The poll found only 21 per cent of Britons have discussed their end-of-life wishes with somebody. Four-fifths of the public believe people in Britain are uncomfortable discussing death, and only a third of Britons have written a will. Just 29 per cent of us have let a loved one know our funeral wishes.

Claire Henry, chief executive for the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care, said: “Dying is one of life’s few certainties, but many of us appear to be avoiding discussing it or are in denial altogether. Talking more openly about dying and planning ahead is in everyone’s interests as it can help ensure we get our wishes met and make it easier for our loved ones. You only die once, which is why it’s so important to make your wishes known while there’s still time.”

The study, timed to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week this week, also looked at the growing issue of people’s digital legacy, revealing 27 per cent of the public have posted an online tribute to someone who has died. However, despite the rise of social media, the majority of Britons haven’t considered what will happen to their own online accounts when they die, although 11 per cent of people said they would want a friend or family member to continue updating their social media accounts on their behalf.

The study also showed it’s not just the public who struggle to talk about death. A separate poll of 1,000 family doctors found a quarter of GPs had not initiated conversations with their patients about their end-of-life wishes.

Around 90 per cent of the public think health-care professionals should receive training in how to talk sensitively to people who are dying.

Professor Mayur Lakhani, chair of the Dying Matters coalition, said: “Although it’s encouraging that increasing numbers of doctors are discussing end-of-life wishes with patients to help get them the right care and support, there’s still a long way to go.

“What we need now is a national conversation about dying, so that health-care professionals and the general public become more comfortable in discussing dying, death and bereavement.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “There is only one chance to get care right at the end of someone’s life and we need to overcome our fears and become more open about discussing death. 

“Nurses are often uniquely placed to help people talk about their wishes to ensure that they get the care that gives them dignity and comfort at the end of their lives. The vast majority of people want to be able to die at home and to help them do this there should be more resources in the community. At the moment, too few people have a proper choice and that must change.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas