Start of National Research Programme "End of Life" (NRP 67) - How knowledge can make dying more humane

Every year around 62,000 people die in Switzerland but little is known about the circumstances and conditions of dying. The Swiss National Science Foundation has launched the National Research Programme "End of Life" (NRP 67) to elaborate knowledge for politics and science which will make it possible to conceive more humane scenarios for the last phase of life for both young and old.

"Death is no longer a taboo: dying is a subject of discussion in all walks of life. But we do not know enough about the conditions of dying," says Markus Zimmermann. The theologian and ethicist is president of the Steering Committee of the new National Research Programme "End of Life" (NRP 67). In the next five years, researchers from a wide range of disciplines - medicine, law, theology, social sciences, economics, anthropology - will investigate the conditions of dying in Switzerland.

"Until the 60s people did not talk about dying but most would have experienced relatives or neighbours dying. In rural areas, death was a part of daily life. Today we are witnessing a reversal: we talk about dying but hardly anyone comes in touch with death," says Zimmermann. If society and politics want to create more humane conditions of dying, they urgently need to know more about the current conditions.

What constitutes "good" dying?

Every year around 62,000 people die in Switzerland. But how many die where? How do they die? Ill and lonely? Do they receive too much or not enough care? What medical support do they need at the end of life? How much does care cost and who pays for it? How do young people die and what's the involvement of their relatives? Why are there people who want to choose the moment of their death? Who should be entitled to make such a decision? What approach should a good legal solution take? What ideas of "good dying" exist in society?

NRP 67 aims to find answers to these questions. "In the past few years, interest in the end of life has increased significantly," says Zimmermann. "Debates surrounding living wills, palliative care and assisted suicide are indicators of this change." The NRP is taking this development as its point of departure. The focus lies on people who only have a few months to live, old and young people, children, newborns and even unborn children.

From provision of care to spirituality

NRP 67 has CHF 15 million at its disposal. The nearly 30 research projects are divided into four key areas: The module "Provision" looks at institutions such as homes, hospitals and hospices and at how people experience them; "Decisions" studies how medical staff reach decisions and how their motives and attitudes influence terminal care; "Regulations" examines whether the existing laws measure up to reality or whether new rules are needed; and "Concepts" looks at how spirituality, ideals and cultural background influence ideas of dying and death.