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Book review: Governing death and loss: empowerment, involvement and participation
  1. Clare Gardiner
  1. Correspondence to Clare Gardiner, The University of Sheffield, Sykes House, Little Common Lane, Sheffield S119NE, UK; c.gardiner{at}

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Governing death and loss: empowerment, involvement and participation Edited by Steve Conway. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2011. ISBN 978-0-19-958617-2, paperback, 152 pages, cost £24.95

A key message of this new book edited by Steve Conway is that the conception of death as an exclusive responsibility for clinical and professional governance, has inhibited the way we respond compassionately and socially to meet the needs of the dying and their loved ones. While this message might unnerve professionals working in the fields of supportive and palliative care, they can feel reassured that the publication of this text does not, completely, negate their professional purpose. The book applies a sociological understanding to a range of features of death and loss in contemporary society, and outlines and appraises UK and international examples of governance promoting the participation of ordinary people and communities in death and loss.

Contributions from social scientists such as Jenny Hockey, Peter Beresford and Suzy Croft, alongside palliative and end of life care practitioners including Nigel Hartley, John Rosenburg and Patsy Yates, give this book a wide ranging appeal. It provides relevant reading for a broad audience including health professionals, academic researchers and social scientists. It is clear that an understanding of the evolution of death, loss and bereavement practices can help us to better understand the needs of the growing population of patients facing death and bereavement, and this book goes some way to doing this. Perspectives on the chronology of death and loss, and descriptions of cultural and societal changes in the way we view dying and bereavement also aid a wider understanding of contemporary dying.

The book has a strong international perspective. Particularly interesting are the three chapters relating to death and loss, palliative care provision, and the role of communities and societies in death in non-Western societies (Wing-hoi Chan, pp 63–70; Suresh Kumar, pp 109–117; Andy Hau Yan Ho and Cecilia Lai Wan Chan, pp 119–128). Ethnic and cultural differences in the way we view death and loss are under-researched in palliative and supportive care, and the contribution of such a wide range of international material provides a welcome insight into practices in non-Western societies.

This is a useful and accessible book, with relevance to a wide readership. It provides some fascinating insights into practices of death and loss. While not essential reading for healthcare professionals with a focus on palliative and supportive care, it would make a very worthwhile addition to the library of anyone working in this field.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.