BMJ Support Palliat Care 3:37-45 doi:10.1136/bmjspcare-2012-000203
  • Review

Public attitudes to death and dying in the UK: a review of published literature

Editor's Choice
  1. Jane Seymour1
  1. 1School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
  2. 2School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
  3. 3Information Services, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Karen Cox, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, University of Nottingham, Kingsmeadow Campus/Lenton La, Nottingham NG7 2NR, UK; karen.cox{at}


Background Public attitudes are important in shaping public policy and the political will that determines future service provision. They also help to identify priorities for public education. This paper presents a review and synthesis of published literature on public attitudes to death and dying in the UK from 1990.

Method The approach to the review was systematic and involved searching for published research in five databases combined with reviewing references proposed by experts in the field and following up relevant citations from identified sources. The selected sources were assessed by the review team and analysed using a thematic approach.

Results The review identified 22 sources reporting 19 studies which met our criteria for inclusion in the descriptive analysis. Three descriptive themes were identified: preferences relating to death and dying, attitudes to euthanasia and attitudes to life-sustaining treatments and interventions.

Conclusion The review outcomes challenge widespread assumptions about public attitudes to death and dying and identify the need for more rigorous work to better understand public views on dying and death. Such work is needed if public health services are to meet the expectations and reflect the wishes of individuals in this area in future.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Accepted 19 March 2012.
  • Published Online First 2 November 2012

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