Death as a condition for which a cure is needed

When I was the secretary of a very large social club for retirees, I discovered, much to my surprise, a widespread fear of death. Many of the members, up to age 90, told me of that fear. The members were all Anglo-Australians. In a retirement home, I saw a goodly number of elderly women just sitting there, with their heads down. Worse still, a regular church-goer said to me recently, in relation to our respective age-related health problems, that this was ‘better than the alternative – death.’

I have extracted the following from an article by Leah Kaminsky in the Jan31-Feb1 issue of ‘Spectrum’ in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald.’

‘Now many people in the Western world are living well into their 80s and 90s, and still hoping for more. Along with the professionalization and outsourcing of death, which has all but removed it from our everyday lives, comes people’s fantasy that they won’t die at all. … …

American surgeon … Atul Gawande in his latest book ‘Being Mortal’ … crafts … a powerful narrative about end-of-life choices. “In the past few decades,” he writes, “medical science has rendered obsolete centuries of experience, tradition, and language about our mortality and created a new difficulty for mankind: how to die. We hook people up to ventilators and IV drips, pumping them full of drugs to keep their withered bodies going, when the life force has clearly left them. Preserving them in ICU units like living mummies, we no longer know how to let them go.” … …

“Our decision-making in medicine has failed so spectacularly that we have reached the point of actively inflicting harm on patients rather than confronting the subject of mortality,” Gawande writes. … …

‘Being Mortal’ examines how we have failed the elderly and the dying. “The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver’s chance of benefit.”

It is a brave book – a cry of outrage as well as an optimistic call for change – that challenges us to reflect on how we have turned mortality into a medical experience. … … Gawande points out that modern-day medicine is a “profession that has succeeded because of its ability to fix.” Death is seen as a failure; a condition for which medical science is yet to find a cure. It’s time to challenge this cultural attitude.’

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