When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


There are broken bits of commemorative stonework lying around the village church walls. It's sad to see memorials for those who died young but even sadder to see that whatever was left of someone has ended up as a weed suppressant. Who was she?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Body snatchers, and how they were thwarted

Mortsafe in Towie churchyard, Aberdeenshire
Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, trainee doctors and surgeons relied on body-snatchers to supply them with corpses for dissection. This was at a time when many people believed that you wouldn't be allowed into heaven if your body wasn't intact, so the thought of their loved ones' remains being desecrated horrified them. This photo is from an interesting article about the lengths that some people went to, to prevent the bodies of their newly dead loved ones from being stolen. When a body had rotted, it was of little interest to the anatomists, so was left in peace.

My body may be of use to the trainee doctors at Cambridge University, so I've bequeathed it to them. You can do the same - see the link on the right.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Wise words about the process of dying

Dr Mannix explains what happens.
When the video appeared on Facebook someone commented "Hardly comforting to hear this. Death is traumatic at every level - and always will be." Sad to hear someone feels this way but I suppose it's quite common. When someone's killed in traumatic circumstances, such as being horribly injured in a war, obviously that's different, but "always will be" just isn't true.

Sure Dr Mannix would approve of this quote:
Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when we were not: this gives us no concern—why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be? . . . To die is only to be as we were before we were born; yet no one feels any remorse, or regret, or repugnance, in contemplating this last idea. It is rather a relief and disburthening of the mind: it seems to have been holiday-time with us then: we were not called upon to appear upon the stage of life, to wear robes or tatters, to laugh or cry, be hooted or applauded; we had lain perdus all this while, snug, out of harm’s way; and had slept out our thousands of centuries without wanting to be waked up; at peace and free from care, in a long nonage, in a sleep deeper and calmer than that of infancy, wrapped in the finest and softest dust.  And the worst that we dread is, after a short, fretful, feverish being, after vain hopes, and idle fears, to sink to final repose again, and forget the troubled dream of life!
On the Fear of Death, William Hazlitt, 1778-1830.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Death doesn't misgender. You die as you were born.

In a discussion (if you can call it that) about transgenderism and the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act on Twitter, the tweet above was aimed at me. It'll be familiar to those of you who question the claim, since it's been repeated umpteen times by irritable transgender people and their chums. According to them, anyone who dares to question the assertion that you can change your sex, whether from male to female or female to male, is a "transphobe", or we "misgender" people, or worse. These absurd beliefs are nonsensical and deny all the evidence to the contrary.

When I die my body should be sent to the teacher of anatomy at The University of Cambridge, as it's been bequeathed for medical education. For how to donate your body, see the link on the right. I wrote should be sent, as it may not be accepted if they have a glut of cadavers or if it's not in good enough condition. The medical students who dissect my body will discover that I was a woman, as I have female anatomy, minus a couple of bits. I have no uterus, as it was removed years ago, and only one breast, as I've had a mastectomy. But there will be no doubt that it was a female body.

If a transgender person's body was dissected, either for medical education or a post-mortem examination, his or her sex would also be obvious to a student or pathologist. Not the sex that he or she chose to present as, but his or her natal sex; the sex that he or she was born with. Even when a body has been buried for a very long time, so that there is no soft tissue left, only bone, it is still possible to identify the sex. DNA and characteristics such as the shape of the pelvis will be clear proof of the sex of the corpse. Any surgery that had been intended to make someone appear different from his or her biological sex, the sex they were born with, will make no difference. It will still be obvious. There is a very small number of people who are described as intersex, because their anatomy isn't typical of a male or female, but their existence doesn't validate the claim that a man can be a woman or vice versa. They are very different from transgender people. So no, in life or in death, trans women are not women, no matter how many times you say it's so. It's simply impossible to change your sex.

Gender is different. Gender roles are determined by convention, culture, tradition, the family, and a while bunch of other variables. It's not so much what sex you were born with as where you were born, the society you were raised in, and how independent you are or are allowed to be. In countries like ours, Great Britain, we have more freedom to follow our interests and express ourselves as we please. In other countries, such as the Islamic theocracies, unconventional people risk punishment or even death. So transgender people are fortunate if they live in relatively liberal societies. They can express themselves as they please. But this doesn't mean that claiming to be what you're not is any more ethical, or that it's ethical to claim rights that disadvantage others, such as women's hard-won rights. We are entitled to our safe spaces, to representation in women's organisations, including political ones, to prizes and awards specifically for women, and to compete on equal terms in athletics and sports where male physical strength and size would put us at a disadvantage. And there are very good reasons why there are separate prisons for men or women, and no good reasons to change this.

So, in conclusion, you die as you were born, whichever sex that was. That's a fact.

If the skeleton in the image was a real skeleton, and it could be properly examined, you could tell if it was male or female, though Christians generally assume that the Angel of Death is male, like their God. Jadzia Dax wouldn't have made this sort of fuss.

Update, 2/10/19
It's now possible to determine the sex of a skeleton from its tooth enamel. The Lovers of Modena,  who died about 1,500 years ago, have been identified as men, not a heterosexual couple.