Dying well

A guide to enabling a good death By Julia Neuberger Hochland & Hochland Ltd 178 pages£15.95 This well-presented book looks at modern reactions to death and how attitudes have developed in the UK. In the preface, the author reveals personal bereavements she suffered during its writing and how she and her family were consoled and supported. Readers may feel a twinge of envy that their own experiences were very different.

Details of the approaches to death of various religious groups show that for many, keeping familiar rituals is a source of strength, and to provide the best environment possible, health professionals should accept the needs of the individual and family concerned.

The roles of people with whom a family may come in contact are discussed - a surprisingly large group. For everyone involved, a prior understanding of issues surrounding death might preclude the need for specialist counselling after a tragedy.

'Grief and bereavement' looks at responses to grief in different circumstances. It concludes with practical information on some physical results of grief and an examination of social networks that can help the bereaved re-enter life in their local community.

The author acknowledges the impossibility of professionals knowing about every religious need.

However, to enquire gently and respectfully what else can be done is in itself an affirmation of respect for the other's beliefs. She also acknowledges possible difficulties when those caring for the dying come from a tradition of painful encounters with the culture of the dying person.

The chapter 'Defining and achieving a good death' looks at the role of the medical profession, the possibility of choices in treatment - or not - and who makes them. 'A commonsense approach to dying' argues for professionals to talk to the person, and their family, to discover their expectations and how to achieve a good death.

Euthanasia, advanced care directives, and the contribution of the hospice movement are examined. The author suggests that care, more holistic and less scientifically given, rather than futile attempts at cure, could move up the agenda of health professionals, and that to provide really top-quality care, with empathy, they must have some emotional involvement with patients.

Dying Well should be read by everyone who cares for someone - all of us.

Rev Mary Godin Chaplain, Tolworth Hospital.