21st Century Dying is unique to our time. The length of life is extended and the illnesses that we die from are being detected earlier. Free health care on the NHS allows everyone to access expert and expensive procedures to stay alive. The Hospice movement has established the management of dying and pain. Patient’s pain is regulated from the patient’s perspective and tolerance by repeated medication. It was not always done this way.
In 21st Century Dying terminal illnesses are predicted with an estimated timeline so that families, friends and the patient can prepare for the end.
Dying in earlier times has a bad press. Lives were shorter and death from diseases could only be treated depending on the patient’s means. Pain was unmanaged, and people died deaths from plagues and pestilence.
Yet in the 21st Century we have created a situation where some deaths are predictable and the patient has to tolerate the prediction with no way out. Taking your own life having a terminal illness is still seen as taboo: many are incapable of it and to help them is illegal.
Perhaps in 21st Century Dying we have reached Maslow’s highest plateau. For some all basic needs have been met to lead creative and fulfilling lives. Part of that fulfillment is that we have the time and freedom to think about our existence.
This is concentrated by a predictable death in 21st Century Dying. A time forced on us to reflect on the purpose and success of a past life. One day in the future this might be perceived as a form of torture. Particularly for those who are not practiced or familiar in existential thinking and reflection. To die suddenly with a heart attack or in a traffic accident is seen as a bad death. But it has the advantage of not going through a slow decline with time to think.
Death is frightening to us because we have done nothing else but live. There is no half way option. Physiologically our bodies are either alive or dead. The half way options only emerge psychologically in 21st Century Dying.
In the time between a predicted time of death and death itself it is difficult to avoid a replay of joy and happiness and regret and hurt. Perhaps the Hospice movement could establish a more proactive psychological support service for the terminally ill.
Or on the diagnosis of a terminal illness – a dignified and humanistic death become a socially acceptable alternative.
21st Century Dying. The sanctity of life versus the sanctity of death.
Copyright Adrian Scott North London Counsellor Blog 2013
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Disclaimer: This weblog is the view of the writer and for general information only.
This article is designed to provoke argument and critique.