Death and culture  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Death is the center of many traditions and organizations, and is a feature of every culture around the world. Much of this revolves around the care of the dead, as well as the afterlife and the disposal of bodies upon the onset of death. The disposal of human corpses does, in general, begin with the last offices before significant time has passed, and ritualistic ceremonies often occur, most commonly interment or cremation. This is not a unified practice, however, as in Tibet for instance the body is given a sky burial and left on a mountain top. Mummification or embalming is also prevalent in some cultures, to retard the rate of decay.

Such rituals are accompanied by grief and mourning in almost all cases, and this is not limited to human loss, but extends to the loss of an animal. Legal aspects of death are also part of many cultures, particularly the settlement of the deceased estate and the issues of inheritance and in some countries, inheritance taxation.

Capital punishment is also a divisive aspect of death in culture. In most places that practice capital punishment today, the death penalty is reserved as punishment for premeditated murder, espionage, treason, or as part of military justice. In some countries, sexual crimes, such as adultery and sodomy, carry the death penalty, as do religious crimes such as apostasy, the formal renunciation of one's religion. In many retentionist countries, drug trafficking is also a capital offense. In China human trafficking and serious cases of corruption are also punished by the death penalty. In militaries around the world courts-martial have imposed death sentences for offenses such as cowardice, desertion, insubordination, and mutiny.

Death in warfare and in suicide attack also have cultural links, and the ideas of dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, mutiny punishable by death, grieving relatives of dead soldiers and death notification are embedded in many cultures. Recently in the western world, with the supposed increase in terrorism following the September 11 attacks, but also further back in time with suicide bombers and terrorism in Northern Ireland, kamikaze missions in World War II and suicide missions in a host of other conflicts in history, death for a cause by way of suicide attack, and martyrdom have had significant cultural impacts.

Suicide in general, and particularly euthanasia are also points of cultural debate. Both acts are understood very differently in contrasting cultures. In Japan, for example, ending a life with honor by seppuku was considered a desirable death, whereas in many western cultures the idea of euthanasia is looked upon with mixed feelings. Death is also personified in many cultures, with such creations as the Grim Reaper, Azrael, Father Time. Such cultural ideas are part of a global fascination with death.

Abortion is the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy. This is partially legalised in many Western countries if the mother requests it, and a doctor prescribes it, often taking into account the physical and mental state of the mother-to-be, and the development of the fetus. In countries where abortion is legal, it is understood that the rights of the mother outweigh the rights of the fetus. Some ethicists and religious groups argue that this is wrong and that the fetus has a right to life. In countries where abortion is illegal, many "back-alley" (unsafe abortions) may still occur with great risk to the health of the mother.

See also

Death in art





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Death and culture" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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