chapter  6
28 Pages

Death as Taboo: The American Case

The death revolution of the turn of the twentieth century-the progressive reduction of death rates for key age groups, and the transformation of the most COMMONCAUSESOFDEATHˆSOONPRODUCEDANEAR REVOLUTIONINDEATHCULTURE The United States took an early lead in this process, although it was not alone, and ultimately its innovations would be surpassed by changes in western Eu rope. Enough adjustment occurred, however, to ease some of the complexities that had built up during much of the nineteenth century, when rapidly rising discomfort with death was not matched by reductions in actual mortality rates. Indeed, the United States, along with western Europe, seemed at some points not just to downgrade death as a subject-this clearly occurred-but to make the phenomenon a virtual taboo. Although this judgment involves probable exaggeration, it is unquestionably true that aversion to death reached a level that created unhealthy side effects and new vulnerabilities.