There is a perception – even a consensus – that death is a problem that medicine should somehow sort out, that a “good death” is something that doctors should be able to prescribe, as we might prescribe a course of antibiotics. But our needs are spiritual, not medical. Medicine’s dominion should be limited and explicitly defined. Medicine, and our culture, would be healthier and happier if we stopped expecting it to solve our existential problems, if we stopped thinking of our bodies as machines, and if we gave up our fantasies of control and immortality.
We cannot, like misers, hoard health; living uses it up. Nor should we lose it like spendthrifts. Health, like money, is not an end in itself; like money, it is a prerequisite for a decent, fulfilling life. The obsessive pursuit of health is a form of consumerism, and impoverishes us. Medicine should give up the quest to conquer nature, and revert to its traditional, creaturely role of accompanying the dying: the doctor as amicus mortis. It is as difficult, however, to advise someone how to die, as it is to advise them how to live. Death cannot be sanitised or workshopped. We are frail and vulnerable animals yet we have come to believe that everything that happens to us – including death – is our fault, our doing, our responsibility. Human agency has replaced the power of nature, in Freud’s words, “majestic, cruel and inexorable.”
We doctors can’t prescribe a ‘good death’ | Opinion | The Guardian: