Parsons's entry highlighted the distinctive pattern of Western institutions relating to death. In comparative perspective, Parsons argued, the modern West has uniquely endeavored to "master" death. Such mastery has involved a range of institutions, including scientific medicine and public health services designed to protect life; insurance, retirement, and estate planning to manage the practical consequences of deaths; and mourning customs that emphasize recovery of survivors' abilities to perform ordinary social roles soon after the death of family members, friends, and associates. Some elements of these institutions remain closely tied to the "instrumental activism" of Western cultural values, while other elements, such as the techniques of scientific medicine or the actuarial tables and formulas of the insurance industry, have transcultural validity now that they have been developed. A matter for future investigation concerns the ways in which these universal elements will be institutionalized in sociocultural settings where they may be disconnected from Western value orientations. Scientific medicine is now practiced almost the world over, but in some non-Western societies it is generally reserved for patients from elite status groups, combined with traditional healing in ways that create different doctor and patient roles, or may be linked to personal relationships of political patronage (Kleinman; Scheper-Hughes). In these settings, the bioethical cultures that emerge in the future may prove to be very different from Western frameworks of the past several decades, not least because they will rest on different value orientations toward life and death. Comparative study of bioethical cultures may become a powerful way of building on, correcting, and refining the analysis developed by Parsons in his writings on Western orientations toward death.


SEE ALSO: Autonomy; Body: Cultural and Religious Perspectives; Christianity, Bioethics in; Grief and Bereavement; Harm; Holocaust; Human Dignity; Infanticide; Islam, Bioethics in; Judaism, Bioethics in; Life; Life, (Quality of; Life Sustaining Treatment and Euthanasia; Literature and Healthcare; Narrative; Palliative Care and Hospice; Pastoral Care and Healthcare Chaplaincy; Pediatrics, Intensive Care in; Right to Die, Policy and Law; Suicide; Triage;

Value and Valuation; Virtue and Character; Warfare; and other Death subentries

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