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Keywords:

  • good and bad death;
  • Jade Goody;
  • cultural representations;
  • palliative care;
  • moral accountability

Abstract

Facilitating a ‘good’ death is a central goal for hospices and palliative care organisations. The key features of such a death include an acceptance of death, an open awareness of and communication about death, the settling of practical and interpersonal business, the reduction of suffering and pain, and the enhancement of autonomy, choice and control. Yet deaths are inherently neither good nor bad; they require cultural labour to be ‘made over’ as good. Drawing on media accounts of the controversial death of UK reality television star Jade Goody, and building on existing analyses of her death, we examine how cultural discourses actively work to construct deaths as good or bad and to position the dying and those witnessing their death as morally accountable. By constructing Goody as bravely breaking social taboos by openly acknowledging death, by contextualising her dying as occurring at the end of a life well lived and by emphasising biographical continuity and agency, newspaper accounts serve to position themselves as educative rather than exploitative, and readers as information-seekers rather than ghoulishly voyeuristic. We argue that popular culture offers moral instruction in dying well which resonates with the messages from palliative care.