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"Dying with Dignity" or "Culture of Death?"

There are passionate, opposing views about death that we will need to address.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
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I think it's essential that we discuss dying with dignity, the choices for those at the end of life, and who makes those choices. I'm not sharing this post to advocate a position or to share a personal view of the right answer. I'm sharing this image because it reminded me, when it showed up in my Facebook feed, how intense the feelings are around this question, how fractured we are as a society, and how difficult a time we have talking about complex social questions. We can see the distance we need to cover in the language used for each position: "death with dignity" versus "culture of death."

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What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

In a lot of challenges, the "right" outcome is easy to define e.g. more people have access to clean water. In this challenge reasonable people can define the "right outcome" in very different ways. How can we bring in all those different views, hear each other, and find a "right" that works for everyone (or as many as possible)?


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Photo of Morgan Meinel

Jim Rosenberg , thank you for posting this! Dying with Dignity and euthanasia can be very emotionally challenging topics to discuss, but also very important. 

In my experience as a Palliative and Hospice Care Nurse, I can wholeheartedly say that at least once a week, I am asked by either a patient (or their family member) to assist them with hastening their death.  Being that euthanasia is not legal in New York State as of yet, I am unable to grant this wish. Which brings me to a very important point: Why are individuals requesting this in the first place? In my experience, nearly all of my patients are requesting this because their suffering has not been adequately addressed. Interestingly, when we can find the root of that person's suffering - whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, or existential - and can help them through it - many people can actually find meaning and quality of life in their final days. Naturally, there are some people who still request to have their death hastened and so at that point, we provide support and loving care the best we can. 

As fellow humans beings, let along health care practitioners, we must create an environment that allows others to openly and honestly express their wishes, and encourage them to do so. 

Photo of Shane Zhao

Morgan Meinel you've brought up such an important point — why are patients requesting Dying with Dignity? Is it because their needs are not being adequately met? This sparks us to look really closely at the source of this issue and understand why Dying with Dignity has become such a focus in the media.

I'm really glad you've pointed us towards looking at the "root of that person's suffering —  whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, or existential." This prompts us to focus on the heart of this challenge — the Experience.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg

I just wanted to join in with Shane Zhao in saying thanks for this thought. You've given us a great way to talk about the needs of the dying -- to "find the root of that person's suffering... and help them through it." I think that, whatever one's opinion on the specific "technology" of assisted suicide, you've described the core challenge and what we all want for those at the end of life.

Photo of Morgan Meinel

Thank you, Shane and Jim! This can be a very controversial yet important topic to discuss!