Article: How to face death with faith and not fear

Should death be held at bay for as long as possible, or can we transcend a medicalised approach to our end?

In October 2019 I wrote an article for Premier Christianity magazine picking up on some of the ideas in my book, Dying Well.

Dying isn’t exactly an easy topic, and when you saw the subject of this article you may have been tempted to turn to find something less, well, morbid. But I want to persuade you that thinking about dying does not need to be all doom and gloom. In fact, dying can bring wonderful and unexpected opportunities; it can be a time for joy as well as tears, even a strange adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime voyage of discovery.

Death and dying used to take place in the home. At the beginning of the 20th Century, fewer than 15% of all deaths occurred in an institution, such as a hospital or nursing home. But now more than 50% of people in the UK die in a NHS hospital, and it’s actually very unusual for people to die without warning in their sleep.

Death has become medicalised. When we become seriously ill, we expect to be admitted to hospital. It’s the medical team who tell us what treatments are available for our condition, and the natural assumption is that we will just accept whatever therapies are offered. The battle continues until the medics decide that further treatment is hopeless. And then we die. Death has become defined by what doctors can and cannot do.

Modern medicine can offer us the idea that death can be kept at bay indefinitely. Of course, we know that death cannot be held back forever, but we prefer to focus on the positive. Death is an enemy to be fought, and we will keep on fighting to the end.

Author Rob Moll quotes a funeral director in Wheaton, Illinois, who said that the most common Bible verse that families put on funeral announcements or read at services is: “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). “Except they are not talking about spiritual things,” says Moll. “They mean this person tried every medical option to stay alive.”

This medicalised view of death has only been around for the last few decades. At the beginning of life we are learning that intervention isn’t always the best way to go. There is now an increasing movement away from the medicalisation of childbirth and towards a more natural approach. But when it comes to dying, the medics are still very much in control…

Read the rest of this article, written for Premier Christianity magazine, by clicking here.

You can find other resources on the end of life and dying, including my 2018 book Dying Well, by clicking here.

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