What Enhancement Techniques Suggest about the Good Death


  • Aske Juul Lassen University of Copenhagen
  • Michael Christian Andersen University of Copenhagen




Death, ageing, autonomy, enhancement, rehabilitation


The contemporary increase in life expectancy in Western countries has led to an intensified focus on good ageing processes as a way to manage ageing populations. We argue that while qualifications of the ageing process such as active and healthy ageing endeavour to compress morbidity through enhancement techniques, the idea of the good old age also implicitly tells a tale about the ‘good’ death. We explore how current discourses depict old age as an active, engaged and independent life phase and construct a specific idea of the good death as one that is quick and painless. By engaging with literature on ageing, death and enhancement technologies as well as current Danish healthcare initiatives, we examine the paradoxical, contemporary notion of death as natural, quick, painless and controllable. Danish rehabilitation programmes are provided as an example of specific enhancement techniques that through motivation and physical activity orchestrate the good death in a body that has been as healthy as possible for as long as possible. However, when such techniques become a moral injunction rather than a choice, questions arise concerning the relationship between autonomy and death. We argue that the discursive construction of the good death happens in tandem with enhancement techniques that postpone death, and that this postponement of death has increasingly become more of an imperative than an autonomous decision.


Alftberg, Åsa & Susanne Lundin (2012): ‘’Successful Ageing’ in Practice’’, Culture Unbound, 4: 481-497. DOI: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.124481

Bovvering Books 2015: http://yesiambovvered.com/my-last-word/, (accessed 12/07/16)

Bülow, H. Morten (2014): Unsettling Successful Ageing, PhD dissertation: University of Copenhagen.

Cavan, S. Ruth, Ernest W. Burgess, Robert J. Havighurst & Herbert Goldhamer (1949): Personal Adjustment in Old Age, Chicago: Science Research Associates, Inc.

Clarke, H. Laura, Alexander Korotchenko & Andrea Bundon (2012): ‘The calendar is just about up: Older Adults with Multiple Chronic Conditions Reflect on Death and Dying’, Ageing & Society, 32, 1399-1417. DOI: 10.1017/S0144686X11001061

Cole, R. Thomas (1992): The Journey of Life: A Cultural History of Aging in America, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Cumming, Elaine & William E. Henry (1961): Growing old: The Process of Disengagement, New York: Basic Books.

Damsholt, Tine (2015): ‘Det gode liv i etnologien’, Kulturstudier, 1, 37-55. DOI: 10.7146/ks.v6i1.21240

Davis, J. Lennard (2004): ‘Nude Venuses, Medusa’s Body, and Phantom Limbs: Disability and Visuality’, David T. Mitchell & Sharon L. Snyder, (eds.): The Body and Physical Difference. Discourses of Disability, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 51-71.

Dillon, Michael & Luis Guerrero (2008): ‘Biopolitics of Security in the 21st Century’, Review of International Studies, 34, 265-92. DOI: 10.1017/S0260210508008024

European Commission (2011): How to Promote Active Ageing in Europe: EU Support to Local and Regional Actors, Brussels: AGE Platform Europe.

Foucault, Michel (1994): Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth, Vol. 1. London: Penguin Books.

Franklin, Sarah & Lock, Margaret (2003): Remaking Life and Death, Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Fredericia Kommune (2012): Evalueringsrapport: Længst muligt i eget liv på plejecentrene i Fredericia Kommune. Fredericia: Udvikling og dokumentation.

Fries, F. James (1980): ‘Aging, Natural Death, and the Compression of Morbidity’, The New England Journal of Medicine, 303:3, 130-135. DOI: 10.1056/NEJM198007173030304

Fries, F. James & Lawrence M. Crapo (1981): Vitality and Aging: Implications of the Rectangular Curve, San Francisco: WH Freeman and ompany.

Gerber, A. David (2003): ‘Introduction: Finding Disabled Veterans in History’, David A. Gerber, (ed.): Disabled Veterans in History, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1-41.

Glaser, Barney & Anselm Strauss (1968): Time for Dying, Aldine Transaction. Frederikssund kommune (2015): http://www.frederikssund.dk/Livscyklus/Voksne--aeldre/Boliger-til-aeldre-og-handicappede/Midlertidigt-ophold, (accessed 12/07/16)

Havighurst, J. Robert (1969): Adjustment to Retirement: A Cross-National Study, Assen: Van Gorcum. Hjemmehjælpskommissionen (2013): Rapport fra Hjemmehjælpskommissionen: Fremtidens hjemmehjælp – ældres ressourcer i centrum for en sammenhængende indsats. jemmehjælpskommisionen.

Hogle, F. Linda (2005): ‘Enhancement Technologies and the Body’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 34, 695-716. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.33.070203.144020

Holstein, Martha. & Minkler, Meredith (2003): ‘Self, Society, and the “New Gerontology”’, The Gerontologist, 43:6, 787-796. DOI: 10.1093/geront/43.6.787

Honkasalo, Marja-Liisa (2014): ‘Men, Suicide and Moral Agency’, Marja-Liisa Honkasalo & Miira Tuominen (eds.): Culture, Suicide and the Human Condition. New York: Berghahn Books, 171-197.

Ingstad, Benedicte & Susan R. Whyte, (1995): ‘Disability and Culture: An Overview’, Disability and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 3-32.

Juel, Knud, Jan Sørensen & Henrik Brønnum-Hansen (2006): Risikofaktorer og folkesundhed i Danmark, København: SFI/Sundhedsstyrelsen.

Katz, Stephen (1996): Disciplining Old Age: The Formation of Gerontological Knowledge. Charlottesville & London: University Press of Virginia.

Kaufman, R. Sharon (2010): ‘Time, Clinic Technologies and the Making of Reflexive Longevity: The cultural work of time left in an ageing society”, ociology of Health and Illness, 32, 225-237.

Kaufman, R. Sharon (2005): …and a Time to Die: How American Hospitals Shape the End of Life. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Kaufman, R. Sharon & Lynn M. Morgan (2005): ‘The Anthropology of the Beginnings and Ends of Life’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 34, p. 317-341. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.34.081804.120452

Kehlet, Henrik (2001): ‘Accelererede operationsforløb: en faglig og administrativ udfordring’ Ugeskrift for Læger, 163, 420-424.

Lamb, Sarah (2014): ‘Permanent Personhood or Meaningful Decline? Toward a Critical Gerontology of Successful Aging’, Journal of Aging Studies, 29, 41-52. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaging.2013.12.006

Laslett, Peter (1987): ‘The Emergence of the Third Age’, Ageing and Society, 7:2, 133-160. DOI: 10.1017/S0144686X00012538

Lassen, J. Aske (2014a): Active Ageing and the Unmaking of Old Age: The Knowledge Productions, Everyday Practices and Policies of the Good Late Life, PhD dissertation, København: Københavns Universitet.

Lassen, J. Aske (2014b): ‘Billiards, Rhythms, Collectives: Billiards at a Danish Activity Centre as a Culturally Specific Form of Active Ageing’. Ethnologia Europaea, 44, 57-74.

Lassen, J. Aske & Tiago Moreira (2014): ‘Unmaking Old Age: Political and Cognitive Formats of Active Ageing’, Journal of Aging Studies, 30, 33-46. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaging.2014.03.004

Maddox, L. George (1968): ‘Persistence of Life Style Among the Elderly: A Longitudinal Study of Patterns of Social Activity in Relation to Life Satisfaction’, Bernice

L. Neugarten (ed): Middle Age and Aging: A Reader in Social Psychology, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 181–183.

Metchnikoff, Elie (1908): The Prolongation of Life, New York: Putnam Mitchell, T. David & Sharon L. Snyder (2004): ‘Introduction: Disability Studies and the Double Bind of Representation”, David T. Mitchell & Sharon L. Snyder, (eds.): The Body and Physical Difference. Discourses of Disability. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1-34.

Moody, Harry (1995): ‘Ageing, Meaning and the Allocation of Resources’, Ageing and Society, 15:2, 163-184. DOI: 10.1017/S0144686X0000235X

Moreira, Tiago & Paolo Palladino (2008): ‘Squaring the Curve: The Anatomo-politics of Ageing, Life and Death.’ Body and Society, 14:3, 21-47. DOI: 10.1177/1357034X08093571

Neilson, Bret (2003): ‘Globalization and the Biopolitics of Aging’, CR: The New Centennial Review, 3, 161-186. DOI: 10.1353/ncr.2003.0025

Otto, Lene (2013): ‘Negotiating a Healthy Body in Old Age: Preventive Home Visits and Biopolitics’, International Journal of Aging & Later Life. 8:1, 111-135. DOI: 10.3384/ijal.1652-8670.138111

Pollak, Otto (1949): Social Adjustment in Old Age; A Research Planning Report, New York: Social Science Research Council.

Puma, L. John & Edward F. Lawlor (1990): ‘Quality-adjusted Life Years – Ethical Implications for Physicians and Policymakers’, The Journal of the American Medical Association, 263:21, 2917-2921. DOI: 10.1001/jama.1990.03440210067034

Redfield, Robert (1956): The Little Community and Peasant Society and Culture, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Rose, Nikolas (2007): Politics of Life Itself, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. DOI: 10.1515/9781400827503

Rostgaard, Tine, Caroline Glendinning, Christiano Gori, Teppo Kröger, August Österle, Marta Szebehely, Hildegard Thoebald, Virpi Timonen, Mia Vabo (2011): Livindhome: Living Independently at Home: Reforms in Home Care in 9 EuropeanCountries, Copenhagen: SFI - Danish National Centre for Social Research.

Rostgaard, Tine, Rikke N. Brünner & Torben Fridberg (2012): Omsorg og livskvalitet i plejeboligen, SFI. Det nationale forskningscenter for velfærd.

Rowe, W. John & Robert L. Kahn (1987): ‘Human Aging: Usual and Successful’, Science, 237:4811, 143-149. DOI: 10.1126/science.3299702

Rudman, Debbie (2006): ‘Shaping the Active, Autonomous and Responsible Modern Retiree: An Analysis of Discursive Technologies and their Links with Neo-Liberal Political Rationality’, Ageing and society, 26:2, 181-201. DOI: 10.1017/S0144686X05004253

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy (2002): ‘The Ends of the Body: Commodity Fetishism and the Global Traffic in Organs’, SAIS Review. Vol.XXII:1, 61-80. DOI: 10.1353/sais.2002.0022

Sharp, A. Lesley (2007): Bodies, Commodities and Biotechnologies, New York: Columbia University Press.

Socialstyrelsen (2014): Rehabilitering på ældreområdet: Inspiration til kommunal praksis, Odense: Socialstyrelsen.

Stiker, Henri-Jaques (1999): A History of Disability, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Venn, Susan, & Sara Arber (2011): ‘Day-time Sleep and Active Ageing in Later Life’, Ageing & Society, 31, 197-216. DOI: 10.1017/S0144686X10000954

Walker, Alan (2002): ‘A Strategy for Active Ageing.’ International Social Security Review, 55:1, 121-139. DOI: 10.1111/1468-246X.00118

WHO (2002): Active Ageing: A Policy Framework, Geneva: World Health Organization. WHO (1999): Ageing: Exploding the Myths, Geneva: World Health Organization.

Yuan, D. David (2004): ‘Disfigurement and reconstruction in Oliver Wendell Holmes’ ”The Human Wheel, Its Spokes and Felloes”’, David T. Mitchell & Sharon

L. Snyder, (eds.): The Body and Physical Difference: Discourses of Disability. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 71-88.

Ældrekommissionen (1982): Sammenhæng i ældrepolitikken. Kommissionens 3. og afsluttende delrapport. København: Ældrekommissionen.

Ældre Sagen (2015): http://www.aeldresagen.dk/aeldresagen-mener/fremtidsstudie/livskvalitet/Sider/frygt.aspx, (accessed 22/09/15)

Ældres Netværk Ishøj (2015): (http://seniornetishoj.wordpress.com/historien-bag-aeldres-netvaerk-ishoj/), (accessed 11/01/16)




How to Cite

Lassen, A. J. and Andersen, M. C. (2016) “What Enhancement Techniques Suggest about the Good Death”, Culture Unbound, 8(2), pp. 104–121. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.160928.