More thinking about the end of life and why we struggle on a broad cultural level to deal with it. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that these issues did not exist fifty years ago. They are a product of ‘modern living’ and the success of medical technology to blur the distinctions between life and death.
Fifty years ago and extending back to pre-history, human beings had only to accept the brute fact of death. They were surrounded by it, could not escape it. Young people died all the time–from disease, from accidents, from warfare and starvation. Young women died in childbirth along with their infants. A walk though an old cemetery might shock some–the ages at death for many were horribly young.
Because there was little anyone could do to defeat the dying process, there was only the issue of inevitable suffering and acceptance.
Of course religious thinking was always available as solace for such suffering. Atheism was a rather rare metaphysical position compared with the overwhelming majority of religious devotees.
We tend to forget that antibiotics were only ‘discovered’ within the last 75 years. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques are also a modern invention. ICUs and respirator therapy, cardiac bypass technology, feeding tubes and other sophisticated ‘life support’ methods are products of contemporary scientific technology.
Harvesting of organs in ‘brain dead’ individuals offers a frightening vision to mourning relatives of a pink, ‘breathing, relative on life-support only until their valuable organs have been removed.
The fear of discussing death and dying has never left us. We are less capable of dealing with the inevitable because we can pretend it will not happen.
The conversation must begin because to postpone it merely worsens the suffering when it does occur.
Being able to maintain an individual in some state of ‘existence’ does not mean we should be doing so.
But these complex issues are not going to resolve themselves. We must pay the price for modern scientific technology by openly facing what we can no longer ignore.