Death With Aesthetics

We don’t speak plainly in public discourse anymore. Rather, we equivocate and deploy euphemisms to sanitize our debates. Take the passing of Brittany Maynard by her own hand, which the media has repeatedly characterized as an act of “dignity.” To be sure, Maynard died with human dignity—but not because she committed suicide. Human dignity is intrinsic. Indeed, to accept the premise of suicide as death with dignity says—or at least strongly implies—that patients who expire naturally die with indignity. Continue Reading »

Of Michael Landon and Brittany Maynard

Michael Landon, the hugely popular television star of BonanzaLittle House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven, died in 1991 at age fifty-four. Landon’s last act—if you will—was widely hailed as his best: He publicly announced his diagnosis with terminal pancreatic cancer, appeared on the Tonight Show to openly discuss his pending death with Johnny Carson (almost unprecedented back then), and gave several interviews announcing his determination to hang on until the end. He told Life, “If I’m gonna die, death’s gonna have to do a lot of fighting to get me.” Continue Reading »

Retirement Home Christianity

When, back in the mid-1980s, I told a retired Calvin College colleague that I was moving to Fuller Seminary, he responded: “I hope you will make a case there for more appropriate sermons preached at retirement communities!” He went on to explain: “Last week at the weekly worship service sponsored by our community, a visiting preacher warned us against a modalist conception of the Trinity, while also urging us to avoid tri-theism. But that was not as bad as the week before, when a seminarian—addressing a congregation where at least a dozen of us were sitting in wheelchairs—exhorted us to stand up for Christ in an increasingly secular society!” Continue Reading »

What Old Age Has to Offer

In a much-discussed Atlantic essay, “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” Ezekiel Emanuel—physician, public commentator, and prominent supporter of the Affordable Care Act—argues that we’d all be better off if we died at 75. That way, we would escape the debility and indignity that accompany old age and avoid being burdens to our children and other loved ones. And we would have the solace of not outliving our productivity. After all, he writes, “by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us.” Emanuel has no plan to commit suicide if he reaches 75, he says. But he plans to reject all medical treatments, even routine ones, that go beyond the palliative. Continue Reading »

How to Avoid Death Panels

It shows the level of suspicion people have for government and the health care system that many of us distrust paying doctors to engage in end-of-life discussions. Indeed, during the run-up to the passage of Obamacare, Sarah Palin labeled a never-passed provision to pay doctors for such conversations, “death panels.” That political sound bite struck such a powerful chord that it quickly entered the lexicon. Continue Reading »

Death, Again

Another intrusive death is rising in my life, and not just my own. He was a vigorous seventy-eight-year-old until last November. Then he experienced a fall, and another, and swiftly lost his motor skills. In the space of just a few weeks he quickly went from cane to walker to wheelchair to bed. Continue Reading »