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Paleolithic Emotions, Medieval Institutions, and God-Like Technology

Making a difference in the end of life will involve changing systems that are pretty heavily in need of change themselves

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
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“The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”

W.O. Wilson (in 2009 I believe) was responding to the question, "Will we solve the crises of the next hundred years?" He wasn't talking about our approach to the end of life. But I think his statement helps highlight the systemic barriers to change that we face in this challenge. We are driven by ancient emotions of love and fear that we don't always understand. We must work with institutions that are built for an earlier era. And (perhaps therefore) we allow technology and its possibilities to dominate our decision-making. 

It struck a chord with a pediatrician I know, who wrote, "I've been taking care of children on life support all week and leave each room thinking this exact thought every day. Has anyone figured out how to reconcile this?"

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

What are the systemic barriers to change that we will need to tackle to create a new end of life experience?

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Photo of James Takayesu

These are great perspectives and very true. Technology and treatments abound in medicine and can give false hope in finding a cure or someway to prolong life when in reality we should be working on facilitating conversations about how to cope with mortality in a meaningful way. Medicine is a toolkit that should be used thoughtfully, but should not take over the larger conversation of having a meaningful end to life. 

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