As much as all of us crave and pursue a ‘good life’, we equally fear a ‘bad death’. What defines a ‘bad death’ is individual as we are. For some that is a sudden death that interrupts the living of a normal life through illness, accident or misadventure. Any violent wrenching from the visceral experience of living, with final moments of great pain and fear is to be avoided. For others it is dying alone, without a loved one to mark the passing from body to spirit or to shed tears of loss.
Others decide to take their own lives, maybe in a depressive state, worn thin by ongoing pain and anguish or as a way to control the ‘final’ of all actions. A death of a baby, child or young adult, seems cruelly unjust. A poor hand indeed to be dealt.
Former editor of the British Medical Journal, Richard Smith declared recently, rather boldly that ‘cancer was the best way to die’. His comments have sparked a storm of outrage from families of sufferers, who have labelled him, ‘insensitive’ and from Cancer Research UK who described him as ‘nihilistic’, giving scant regard for young people who lives were cut short.
Smith claimed that billions of dollars was wasted in trying to cure the disease, as it was clearly the best way for an ageing population to die. He argued that a ‘good death’ was one that was protracted which allows time for reflection, goodbyes and the celebration of all that is loved, before the light is extinguished. The pain of dying could be made bearable through ‘love, morphine and whiskey’, he added.
He is right to a degree of course, but he is also foolish. Anyone who makes such comments who does not have cancer, or has not experienced cancer, remains a spectator and not a participant. If a person older than 50 makes this statement, then they have had the privilege of living 50 glorious year of life. It is a comment blighted by romanticism and ignorance. To write about cancer, or to watch someone die of cancer, it not the same has having experienced the reality of cancer, and all of the emotions, fears, anxiety and anger that comes with the diagnosis.
I commend his comment about staying away from ‘overambitious oncologists’, as I too believe that without the capability of the adrenal and immune system, death arrives earlier than necessary. There is a great deal of enthusiastic insensitivity and dissociative behaviour in the medical industry. Smith stopped short of connecting Big Pharma to the equation, but perhaps the British Medical Journal receives support from such sources?
I am fortunate to have love, and when the time comes no hesitation in taking a ride on the silver horse of morphine. I have been in the past a lover of fine whiskey, a habit ceased in the pursuit of good health, which ironically renewed will be a welcomed tool in the event of my death. I would however prefer to live a long life, with good health and slip quietly into death in the state of perpetual sleep.