Thanatology is the science that study death. It investigates the circumstances surrounding death, the grief experienced by the deceased’s loved ones, and larger social attitudes towards death. It is primarily an interdisciplinary study, frequently undertaken by professionals in nursing, psychiatry, and veterinary science. It also describes bodily changes that accompany death and after-death period.

The word is derived from the Greek language. In Greek mythology, Thanatos (θάνατος: “death”) is the personification of death. The English suffix -ology derives from the Greek suffix -logia (-λογια: “speaking”).

Mostly used to provide palliative care (involving the “treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psycho social and spiritual) for dying individuals and their families, thanatology recognizes that, ultimately, death is inevitable. It works to develop guidelines to ease the process of dying. Thanatology does not directly explore the meaning of life and of death but study how the question affects those involved rather than the question itself.

1900-10 — Autopsy — Image by © CORBIS


In most cases, thanatology is studied as a means towards the end of According to the World Health Organization.

Many individuals who study thanatology do so because they believe that life is valuable. Death is the end of life, making the study of it worthwhile by association. Their primary goal is to ease and improve the dying process, both for the dying and for that person’s loved ones. This goal is consistent with the Hippocratic Oath.

There is also a branch of thanatology called music thanatology which focuses on the use of “music vigils” to help the individual and their family. More information may be found by searching music thanatology and the chalice of repose.

The Association for Death Education and Counseling, a multi-disciplinary professional organization based in the United States, offers a certification in in thanatology. Requirements include advanced degrees in appropriate fields, such as those mentioned above, and the sitting of a three our proctored competency examination. On passing the examination, members are able to list themselves as “Certified Thanatologists”, or add the initials “CT” after their academic degrees.