As the power of medicine to cure grew in the second half of the 20th century, increasingly Americans were dying in the hospital. According to Ira Byock, MD, 20% of Americans die in ICUs tethered to life-sustaining quipment. 50% of us die in hospitals. 30% in long-term care facilities. Death has been subsumed within a medical model and culture and occurs largely away from home.
The tradition of the ars moriendi--the arts of dying-- of which I spoke in my last posting at My Morbid Obsession, have been to a large extent lost. And while we are no longer a predominantly Protestant Christian culture, our spiritual lives continue to impact how we die. We are whole people. As Byock suggests, dying is not a medical occurrence but an intensely personal one, encompassing the whole person. As a culture we have become alienated from death and dying, having become entranced by the power of medicine. Without denying the many blessings of modern-day medicine, we can begin to reclaim--in our own way-- the intimate experience of dying well among loved ones so evident in the 19th Century.
Enjoy the video below by Ira Byock, MD, Palliative Care physician at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and author of many books on end-of life care. He addresses the question of why we are afraid of death.