Thursday, February 17, 2005
William Buckley wrote a column last week in which he discussed some of his views about death and dying and the new technologies that permit us to prolong out lives and some of the harms that come about due to these technologies. He specifically focused on the health of Pope John Paul and explained his reasons for no longer praying for his recovery. His column concludes,
So, what is wrong with praying for his death? For relief from his manifest sufferings? And for the opportunity to pay honor to his legacy by turning to the responsibility of electing a successor to get on with John Paul's work? Muriel Spark commented in "Memento Mori": "When a noble life has prepared old age, it is not decline that it reveals, but the first days of immortality." That cannot be effected by the hospital in which the pope struggles.
In response to that article, Phil Steiger of the "Every Thought Captive" blog provides some further insight into the use of new technologies to extend people's lives, perhaps in ways that are unhealthy rather than healthy. He states,
I agree that one of the clear benefits of biotechnology is health-I am personally counting on science to save me from diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The current situation with the Pope, however, provides us with a possible example of life extending technologies not being an unqualified good. We might be up against a wall that will be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome-the inevitability of aging and decay. There are two important and conflicting forces at play when we decide to extend life beyond what may be “natural.” On the one hand is the inevitable fact that as we age we decay and deteriorate physically, and on the other hand are technologies which seek to extend physical life. In other words, the promise of life extending technologies is that we will lead longer lives healthier-we will be younger longer. But the reality at this point is that we lead longer lives without our health-we are older longer. (emphasis in original).
The two pieces provide some helpful guidance on how various individuals with differing backgrounds view death and long life. [bm]