The Death System

Turning from the individual to the society, it is easy to see many places where death plays an important role in social life. Robert Kastenbaum has characterized this as the "death system." Just as society has many systems to deal with essential functions, such as the economic system, the educational system, and the transportation system, society must also deal with death on a daily basis. The death system would include, among other matters, all that is involved with the disposition of the dead body: the church or other religious organization, the funeral arrangements, the cemetery. A large number of people are involved, in one way or another, in this aspect of the death system. Although the funeral business has taken its share of criticism, some of it undoubtedly deserved, it fills a need that the majority of people in Western society have.

The death system also has other functions. Already noted is the care of the dying, which involves a large part of the health care system in the United States as well as family and friends and organizations such as hospice. One might also include in the death system the many aspects of society which are involved in trying to prevent death, from police officers to the national Centers for Disease Control to the hurricane warning center to the manufacturer of railroad crossing signals. Actually, few people in the United States do not have at least a peripheral connection to the death system. Many florists, for example, say that half or more of their business is providing flowers and wreaths for funerals and for cemetery plots.

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