Mark Shelvock helped launch a thanatology club at King's College, the Catholic college at the University of Western Ontario in London.

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Mark Shelvock helped launch a thanatology club at King's College, the Catholic college at the University of Western Ontario in London.

March 9, 2015
EVAN BOUDREAU
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

At King's University College in London, Ont., second-year student Mark Shevlock is hoping to teach others what he's learned already: that the key to happiness can be found in the exploration of death.

Shocked to discover the school had no academic club attached to its thanatology department, unlike the majority of the school's departments, Shevlock formed the Than Club motivated by a desire to give back to the King's community.

"I began to take thanatology classes and instantly fell in love with the subject matter," said Shevlock. "After seeing how death education drastically changed my perception in a positive way, I felt that it was important to get people to also start talking about thanatology."

Thanatology is defined as the scientific study of death. It investigates both the mechanism and forensic aspects of death as well as the wider social aspects related to the inevitable.

In early February the club held its inaugural meeting.

WIDE-RANGING DISCUSSIONS

The conversations regarding cultural perspectives on death, the dying process and loss associated with death are stimulated through interactive workshops, lectures from guest speakers as well as the recognition of culturally significant celebrations of death, such as All Souls Day.

The student-run club is managed by Shevlock, co-founder Erin Subick and two vice-presidents, Haley Turner and Yvonne Mawson.

"At our first event it was amazing to see how open the students and faculty were and how excited they are to continue attending the events," said Turner, a third-year thanatology and psychology double-major.

"I joined the Than Club because I wanted to be able to connect with other students who are interested in learning about death, dying and bereavement in an open environment where no judgments are made."

Thanatology alumni leave with a degree which allows them to apply to post-graduate programs such as law school, medical school and a variety of therapy programs.

Shevlock also garnered the support of Eunice Gorman, a local professor, nurse and social worker, who is the club's faculty advisor.

For the club's second meeting, currently being planned, Gorman is to host a discussion on physician-assisted suicide.

Following her lecture Than Club executives will facilitate conversations which seek to foster intellectual exploration of the "pros and cons" related to the Supreme Court of Canada's recent ruling to allow physician-assisted suicide.

EXPERIENCES OF LOSS

Associate professor Darcy Harris said these kinds of conversations are essential to students even though the majority of them are still in their early 20s.

"Many of the students in our program have experienced significant losses in their lives – both death and non-death related – and they find the courses meaningful to their experiences," Harris said.

Shelvock echoed that notion.

"Simply put, grief and loss are a universal event that all humans share," he said. "Thanatology is a fascinating and unique topic which ought to be celebrated.

"At the end of the day thanatology gives students an appreciation of life."