Death, Mourning, and Medical Progress

Daniel Callahan

in The Roots of Bioethics

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199931378
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980598 | DOI:
Death, Mourning, and Medical Progress

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A number of changes can be observed in the way people are coming to think about death, mourning, and medical progress. The palliative care movement was initiated some 30 years ago to respond to widespread ignorance or neglect of pain relief for the dying, which was then coming to public attention and becoming a key part of the nascent hospice movement. Yet, if an important feature of the latter movement was acceptance of the reality of death, in recent years there has emerged a blending of clinical treatment and hospice care, a kind of compromise with the idea of death as inevitable. Meanwhile, the combination of real progress in forestalling death and the matching medical and media hype about past and coming victories over mortality mean that death itself is coming to be seen as a biological accident, a contingent event, not a fixed given. People die now because of bad luck, indifference to good living habits, unfortunate genetics, and the like, or because they have the misfortune of dying before a cure for their fatal disease is at hand. Mourning likewise is changing. The old custom of the deceased being laid out in their living rooms, followed by a funeral, has long given way to a movement away from public funerals to private ones followed later by a memorial ceremony. No more dead bodies on display to grieve over, but soothing ceremonies of remembrance.

Keywords: death; mourning; progress; medical goals; hospice

Chapter.  6198 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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