In our society, death is thought of as something that needs to be overcome. If someone dies, others ask what they could have done to prevent it. If someone commits suicide, they say “I should have helped before it was too late”, if someone dies in a car wreck: “I shouldn’t have let them go out that night”, if someone dies of lung cancer: “they shouldn’t have smoked so much” or “if only they had gotten a new lung in time”. Because of all these wishes and beliefs towards death, it becomes difficult to see what constitutes as a “good” death in our current society. One would think that with all the prevention techniques, or aspirations for cures, that a good death can no longer occur; all death is now considered bad. This becomes a problem for the sick and dying, which can no longer aspire to die with dignity.
In seeing and hearing ads, I notice that this concept is everywhere.
As an organ donor, I was initially proud to make the decision to “donate life” to others after my own death. I saw people who chose not to get the red heart on their license as unnecessarily greedy and as people who didn’t care about the needs of strangers. But after talking about the position on organ transplants in other countries, I realized valid reasons to not donate. Who are we to say who should get new, life-saving organs and who shouldn’t? Should young mother receive an organ before an old man? Should a smoker be refused lungs before a non-smoker? Who has the right to answer these questions in order to make life-changing choices? The organization Donate Life supports the donations of skin, eye, blood, and organs. I commonly hear their commercials on the radio, with inspiring stories such as mothers who wouldn’t have had children without a new heart. They encourage you to help this person who needs a new organ in order to live. At which point are we helping someone at the sake of another?
Another common theme I see in ads all the time is the idea of working together in some way to discover cures to many types of cancers. People walk to end breast cancer and donate money for all kinds of other terminal conditions. Everyone wants to live in a world in which they don’t have to worry about their parents and grandparents getting Alzheimer’s. But deaths caused by cancer are very common. Without these, how will people die?
All of these hopeful preventions want to create a world in which there is no death caused by “bad” or “unfortunate” means. But without them, how will we die? How do we want to die? Will we become like the elderly in The Giver and have programmed deaths before we become too old and lose our place in society? Although this is an interesting perspective and does provide for a “good death” in which every person gets a happy and proper send off, it is hard to imagine this being accepted in a culture that will not accept physician assisted suicide.