DEATH will be on the agenda in York next week as the city hosts the Before I Die Festival.

The festival - which is being held to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week - is the first of its kind in York and has been set up to address a social need to talk about end-of-life issues.

Among the events will be "death cafes" to discuss attitudes and questions about death, a discussion by experts about whether to legalise assisted dying and an event of "music and poetry to die for".

Professor Celia Kitzinger, from the department of sociology at the University of York, is curator of the festival.

Co-director of the York-Cardiff Chronic Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre, she has carried out a study exploring the experiences of families with loved ones in a long-term coma as her sister Polly is severely brain injured following a car accident.

She said: “Death is often a taboo subject which many people are reluctant to discuss, but through my research and as a result of experiences within my own family, I have become convinced that we urgently need to talk about end-of- life issues as individuals and as a society.

“The festival combines thought-provoking perspectives on death, but we also aim to provide opportunities for people to think about their wishes for their own end-of-life and advise on how to make sure these choices are documented and made clear to relatives and medical staff.”

It is being supported by former Joseph Rowntree School teacher Margaret John, of Southbank, who has incurable ovarian cancer and manages her illness with chemotherapy.

She believes doctors should be free to advise patients on the most humane way to end their life and wants to know that she could choose if the time is right. Last year Ms John testified in the Supreme Court as part of an attempt to clarify the issue of whether doctors can advise someone with a serious illness who wants to die.

Highlights of the festival


• Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, Monkgate, 7.30pm to 10.30pm

Chris Larner's 'An instinct for kindness'

In November 2010, Chris Larner accompanied his chronically ill ex-wife to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic. He will tell his story.

Booking needed by calling 01904 323041 or emailing Admission is £10, concessions £8

• Death Cafe, Friargate Quaker Meeting House, 11am to 1pm

This death café is an opportunity to discuss thoughts, attitudes and questions about death over tea and cake.

• A Good Death? Research Centre for the Social Sciences, University of York, 2pm to 4pm, free

What shapes our ideas about what a ‘good death’ looks like? What meaning does the concept of a good death have in a morally and religiously plural society?

The panel will explore how the concept of a good death has developed through history.


• Music and Poetry to Die For, 7.30pm to 9.30pm, National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate

The programme will feature solo songs whose poetry explores the impact of bereavement, permission to die, and release and hope,

Tickets cost £8, booking needed, phone 01904 658338


Advance decision clinics, Friargate Quaker Meeting House 10am to 1pm

• Do you want to write your own advance decision? Not sure how to start or how to do it?

Free information and help with writing advance decisions available on a one-to-one basis with members of the panel associated with the charity, Compassion in Dying.

Book a 30 minute slot with an advisor by emailing

The full programme and further details are available on the festival website