Die Another Way: A Rational Conversation About Death

The great elephant in the room in the health care discussion is the huge cost of keeping alive those already in the final stages of life.  Is there a better way to approach this, or to even discuss it?  Right now, we are doing neither.

While many people say they hope for a quick death, and wish to die at home, it's very hard to die naturally or suddenly today.

After all, we have an infrastructure that was built to save lives, from the 911 emergency phone system to the life-prolonging apparatus known as the medical industrial complex.

On the one hand, this is a very good thing. If you are in a bad car accident, chances are that you will be taken to a hospital quickly and your life can be saved. Your chances of surviving a life-threatening injury are dramatically higher today than, say, in the 1940s, not to mention the 1300s. 

Before modern medicine and advanced medical technology, we had a different way of speaking about death. In the Christian tradition, the virtuous person accepted death and then went to heaven without a fight.

Today, the language we use to describe our battle against death is anaologous to warfare, as Jeff Schechtman points out in his Specific Gravity interview with the journalist Katy Butler, author of Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death

Of course, there was not a lot one could do to battle death in the 14th century, whereas today we talk about medical technology helping us to possibly achieve immortality, and we say this with a straight face. But what does this say about the quality of life of patients who are kept alive - in the case of Butler's father, for three years - whose experience is one of prolonged suffering?

In the podcast below, Butler describes the experience of watching her father - an intellectually vigorous college professor - decline into a condition where he couldn't name his own children. Butler's 2010 New York Times Magazine article, "What Broke My Father's Heart," describes how a pacemaker forced "my father's heart to outlive his brain."

According to Butler, we are good at saving lives, but have failed to have a clear-headed conversation about when it is the right time to let someone die. As Butler points out, when a provision designed to do just that was included in the Affordable Care Act, it set off charges of "death panels." 

Death panels notwithstanding, Schechtman tells us, "the great elephant in the room in the health care discussion is the huge cost of keeping alive those already in the final stages of life.  Is there a better way to approach this, or to even discuss it?  Right now, we are doing neither."

Listen here:

Click here to listen on your iphone or ipad

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Brain study finds circuits that may help you keep your cool

Research by neuroscientists at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory helps explain how the brain regulates arousal.

Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP/ Getty Images
Mind & Brain

MIT News

The big day has come: You are taking your road test to get your driver's license. As you start your mom's car with a stern-faced evaluator in the passenger seat, you know you'll need to be alert but not so excited that you make mistakes. Even if you are simultaneously sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy, you need your brain to moderate your level of arousal so that you do your best.

Keep reading Show less

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America

A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
  • The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
  • According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
Keep reading Show less

How pharmaceutical companies game the patent system

When these companies compete, the people lose.

Top Video Splash
  • When a company reaches the top of the ladder, they typically kick it away so that others cannot climb up on it. The aim? So that another company can't compete.
  • When this phenomenon happens in the pharmaceutical world, companies quickly apply for broad protection of their patents, which can last up to 20 years, and fence off research areas for others. The result of this? They stay at the top of the ladder, at the cost of everyday people benefitting from increased competition.
  • Since companies have worked out how to legally game the system, Amin argues we need to get rid of this "one size fits all" system, which treats product innovation the same as product invention. Companies should still receive an incentive for coming up with new products, he says, but not 20 years if the product is the result of "tweaking" an existing one.