Death Panels and our Fear of Death

Bill Keller in the New York Times wrote an article on October 7 entitled, “How to Die.” He was explaining the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying, a protocol that some British physicians are using to help terminally ill patients address their imminent demise. Yes, this brings to mind the infamous “death panels” of our dear friend Sarah Palin. But it is nothing of the sort. It is merely a protocol that physicians can gently and professionally use, if deemed appropriate, for patients who have no treatment options remaining and are in great pain. “It is not hastening death. It is giving choices,” declared Keller.

This approach seems so much more humane than does out hysteria-driven, death-denying obfuscation. Our culture needs to grow up and realize that death is an essential part of life and that it is simply going to happen; and that living in fierce denial of it only makes the parting more difficult. And, this denial system that we have created about death only makes it more difficult to live life fully in the first place while we are young and healthy. It was decades ago that Irvin Yalom declared that as long as we live in fear of death we are fearful of life also. You can’t live until you die! Hmm. Sounds a lot like something Jesus once said, doesn’t it?

Ernest Becker wrote a stunning book about this subject about three decades ago, The Denial of Death. He gave a brilliant portrayal of history as mankind’s efforts to deny his mortality, to pretend that he was going to live forever, and to interpret spiritual teachings and mythology to mean that he would live after death in some corporeal fashion.

The core issue is the ego. It is the ego who cannot fathom that it is such a contrivance, a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Some therapists and spiritual teachers have made a career out of this death issue, announcing in so many words, “Come to me and let me help you die.” Their belief is that once the individual is freed from the clutches of the ego…Karl Jung called this a “death”… he/she will no longer be ravaged by the fear of death.

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