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Surprising Science

An Argument in Favor of Cancer as the Best Way to Die

BMJ blogger Richard Smith makes the bold claim that dying of cancer is the best form of death and certainly preferable to a sudden passing. Do you agree?

Here’s a bold take. Former Editor of BMJ Richard Smith writes at that site that of all the ways to go, he’d most prefer to die of cancer. That sounds kooky on the surface but Smith makes a fairly compelling argument, even if not one you’d wish to sign on to:

“There are, as I endlessly repeat, essentially four ways to die: sudden death; the long, slow death of dementia; the up and down death of organ failure, where it’s hard to identify the final going down, tempting doctors to go on treating too long; and death from cancer, where you may bang along for a long time but go down usually in weeks. Suicide, assisted or otherwise, is a fifth, but I’m leaving that on one side for now.

I often ask audiences how they want to die, and most people chose sudden death.”

Smith goes on to say that dying suddenly would probably be the least traumatic of all deaths to the person actually doing the dying. At the same time, a sudden death is almost certainly the most traumatic for the dying’s loved ones:

“It may be very tough on those around you, particularly if you leave an important relationship wounded and unhealed. If you want to die suddenly, live every day as your last, making sure that all important relationships are in good shape, your affairs are in order, and instructions for your funeral neatly typed and in a top draw—or perhaps better on Facebook.”

Smith says the dementia death would probably be the most awful, though at the point of passing your identity will have become so worn away that dying “may be just a light kiss.” Organ failure would put you in the hospital and the hands of doctors. Smith distrusts medical efforts to prolong a condemned life. He says dying by organ failure would likely mean a death in spite of or caused by a Hippocratic form of torture. 

And then there’s cancer:

“So death from cancer is the best… You can say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favourite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare, according to your beliefs, to meet your maker or enjoy eternal oblivion.

This is, I recognise, a romantic view of dying, but it is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky. But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.”

Goodness — what a perspective.

While I can’t say I personally ascribe to Smith’s theory (death scares the bejesus out of me), I can at least understand the reasons why he thinks the way he does. I do wonder whether his four classifications of dying may be drawn from a suspect form of methodology. There’s almost certainly exceptions here and there.

Yet, regardless, not many of us will have the option to choose how we go and our preferred manner of death depends much on our personal values and expectations. Have you thought this question over? In what way would you prefer to go? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to tell us what you think after reading Smith’s article (linked below). 

Read more at BMJ Blogs

Photo credit: lassedesignen / Shutterstock


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