Deathbed confession

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A deathbed confession is an admittance or confession when someone is nearing death, or on their "death bed". This confession may help alleviate any guilt, regrets, secrets, or sins the dying person may have had in their life. These confessions can occur because the dying want to live the last moments of their life free of any secrets they have been holding in for a portion, or the entirety of their life. A deathbed confession can be given to anyone, but a family member is usually with their loved one during this time. Doctors and nurses may also hear a deathbed confession because they are often present in a person’s last moments.[1]

These confessions can range from a confession of sins that have been committed to crimes that have been committed or witnessed. Often, these confessions are made to clear the dying’s conscience. A common type of confession is either religious or spiritually based. On the death bed, the dying will confess sins or mistakes they have made in their lifetime, and ask for forgiveness, so that they may move on to the afterlife that their religion believes in. Different religions have different protocols for the deathbed confession, but all religions seek to provide relief for the dying.[2] People may also confess their feelings for another person while dying. This can relieve the dying of the internal struggle with hiding how they actually feel for someone. These emotions can range from hatred to love, and everything in between.

Many confessions have involved the admittance of a crime that the dying has committed, which cannot be prosecuted once the perpetrator has died. On the other hand, someone can confess that they have knowledge of or witnessed a crime that has been committed. This special kind of confession can sometimes be admissible in court to get a conviction, depending on the circumstances the statement was given under.[3] Another use for a deathbed confession in the criminal justice system is to re-open a case that may have gone cold to get closure for the victim's family or friends, even if prosecution is not an option.



Many terminal patients look to religion or spirituality to bring comfort in their remaining time. Buddhism has been showing up in palliative care more frequently to help patients cope with death and come to peace with the end of their life. Buddhism is a philosophically based religion mainly focused on suffering: why it exists, what causes it, and how to escape it. The belief is that ignorance, anger, and attachment cause inevitable suffering to the body. Buddhism also believes that life and the body is temporary and it is a privilege used to look for enlightenment. Discussing any issues in a patient's life related to suffering can bring inner peace and relief. Buddhism does not seek to manipulate a dying patient into following a religion or forcing dying confessions, but rather to become a thought-provoking way to talk about their suffering and clear themselves of attachment to their body, to prepare for death. Talking about suffering may bring up confessions or secrets that can be released before death to journey towards enlightenment.[4]


Many Christians, most notably Catholics, believe that sins must be confessed to a priest before death. The priest can then absolve the dying of their sins, so that they can be properly prepared for the afterlife.[5] The admittance of sin is important to the dying individual, because this frees them from sin, purifying the soul for a happy afterlife with God in Heaven. These final confessions, sometimes along with the Last Rites, are often performed by a hospital priest or chaplain when a patient's quality of life suddenly declines.


Hinduism is largely centered around the idea of karma and reincarnation. Good karma allows the soul to move up on the incarnation hierarchy to a better life. Bad karma does the opposite; it causes the soul to have to pay for its actions in this life or the previous one. The next incarnation is less fortunate until the bad karma is cancelled out by good deeds or suffering. This heavy emphasis on karma leads many Hindus to carry out many final acts to improve their chances in the next life and reduce end of life suffering. The main ways Hindus try to increase their karma before moving onto the next life is by apologizing to people, resolving any issues with family or friends, confessions with a guru or other religious figure, religious ceremonies, sacrifices or repentance. Performing all, or some, of these actions allows the patient to think about their God, Brahma, while they pass and prepare for the next life.[6]


The Talmud[7] teaches that "if one falls sick and his life is in danger, he is told: 'Make confession, for all who are sentenced to death make confession.'" Masechet Semachot[8] adds,

"When someone is approaching death, we tell him to confess before he dies, adding that on the one hand, many people confessed and did not die, whilst on the other, there are many who did not confess and died, and there are many who walk in the street and confess; because on the merit of confession you will live."

Native American spirituality[edit]

Many tribes of Native Americans have similar views regarding death. Death is seen as a natural transition, and a part of life. The world is seen as an interconnected web, and a person is an extension of the web, as well as all other life. After death, it is believed by many that the components of your person is returned to the web of life. Making this transition smoothly is important to both the dying, and the loved ones left behind after they have passed on. Ensuring that there are no secrets remaining is vital to a transition back to the web of life.[9]



A deathbed confession can be admissible in court under the right circumstances. If someone confesses knowledge of a crime and then dies or their condition worsens, the law does not consider the statement to be hearsay and can be used in a criminal trial.[10] A deathbed confession can be a valuable piece of evidence in a case that may not have much physical evidence. Even criminal confessions that have been secret for years can still be of use, such as in a murder case, because there is no statute of limitations on murder cases.

Cold cases[edit]

Deathbed confessions can be used to re-open cold cases to benefit the victim's family. A notable example of this was the disappearance of a 16 year old servant girl in 1926. The case had gone cold until the family emerged with a deathbed confession from the sister, years after her death, in 2009. The case was reopened, not to find a killer, but to find the body of the young girl to give her a proper burial and give her relatives some closure.[11]

Notable confessions[edit]

In a letter to Gil Aldema before dying of cancer, Naomi Shemer confessed to using a Basque melody for her famous song "Jerusalem of Gold," something she had long denied.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taylor, Elizabeth Johnston (2012). Religion: A Clinical Guide for Nurses. New York: Springer Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-8261-0860-9. 
  2. ^ Bregman, Lucy (2009). Death and Dying in World Religions. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7575-6838-1. 
  3. ^ "Rule 804. Hearsay Exceptions; Declarant Unavailable". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 29 February 2016. 
  4. ^ Masel, Eva; Watzke, Herbert; Schur, Sophie (August 2012). "Life is Uncertain. Death is Certain. Buddhism and Palliative Care". Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 44 (2): 307–312. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2012.02.018. Retrieved 4 April 2016. 
  5. ^ "Deathbed Confessions and Conversions". Bible Study Guide. Retrieved 26 April 2016. 
  6. ^ Thrane, Susan (1 November 2010). "Hindu End of Life: Death, Dying, Suffering, and Karma". Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing. 12 (6): 337–342. doi:10.1097/njh.0b013e3181f2ff11. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  7. ^ BT Shabbos 32a
  8. ^ Semachot lit. means "Joyous Occasions" and is used euphemistically to refer to mourning. Semachot is one of the "Smaller Tractates" that records Amoraic and Tannaic statements that were not included in the canon of the Talmud
  9. ^ Anderson, Laurie (17 November 2000). "Workshop teaches Native American views on death, dying and spirituality". The Advocate. 
  10. ^ "Rule 804. Hearsay Exceptions; Declarant Unavailable". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 29 February 2016. 
  11. ^ Hughes, Jonathan (2015). "Time and Crime: Which Cold-case Investigations Should Be Reheated?". Criminal Justice Ethics. 34 (1): 18–41. doi:10.1080/0731129x.2015.1025505. 
  12. ^ "Top 10 Fascinating Deathbed Confessions", Listverse, September 29, 2009