What Happens When We Are Not Allowed to Die?
Today I learned that a friend’s dog had died. She was chasing a rabbit and did not notice the cliff. Could she have been kept safe, on a leash?
In 2021 it appears that humans are not allowed to die and animals are not allowed to be part of the food cycle that has existed since the beginning of time. Humans are particularly not allowed to die if the cause of death is a virus. Yet, by attempting to evade death, we are destroying the environment and communities that sustain us, and are causing misery to millions of animals.
Death in the 21st Century
Well before COVID, the death of humans was hijacked and institutionalized, mainly with good intention. I vividly recall doing medical rounds in a nursing home, when a little old lady begged me to let her die. There was nothing I could do.
In the practice of Family Medicine, I have repeatedly witnessed the slow ebb of joy in my elderly patients. In my practice, I am always trying to find the one thing that I can do to help. In these cases there is nothing.
It starts with a symptom. The symptom becomes a diagnosis. There are hospital and specialist visits, medications, and procedures — all with good intention. There is no going back.
The patient has difficulty managing activities of daily life. The family steps in. A social worker is called. The house is sold. “You will be so much happier in your unit in the nursing home.” Everything is done to extend life. The patient is surrounded by sicker and older neighbors. Their life-force wanes.
The medications and procedures do not let the life force end. Death is not allowed. Those who have vowed to die in their own home are not exempt. There are processes to prevent this way of dying. These processes extend even to police harassment of pensioners.
Fear and Safety
Sapiens may be the most intelligent species, potentially capable of prolonging their lifespan. This however comes with a cost: a life less human.
Sapiens, the only animal to have significantly changed their environment, have seen their species grow and dominate. Child mortality has dropped and life expectancy has increased. We are curing diseases and filling up the earth. Paradoxically anxiety levels are highest in those most well-off. Longevity, it seems has come along with fear.
Like many South Africans, family holidays were spent on safari. As a young girl, it would surprise me how close to a lion pride, a herd of antelope would be calmly grazing. The antelope knew that the lions had just eaten and that there was nothing to fear.
I recall riding in the back of an open pick-up, climbing trees and waterfalls, and tenting in an unfenced game park. There were no safety rails, no high fences, and no officials in Hi-Viz keeping us safe. Tragedies did happen but so did life.
It has been suggested that while sapiens may achieve a-mortality, this will result in ever more anxiety. If humans can live forever, the fear of death from injury or assault, to individuals or their loved ones, is likely to be enormous.
Those who have experienced tragedy often attempt to make the experience worthy. Images abound of tearful victims pointing fingers and beseeching governments and corporates to put in place structures to prevent another human from experiencing the same discomfort.
These images are replayed by the media with no concern for balance or debate. We become more fearful, exempt ourselves from the cycle of nature and walk into the arms of those willing to absolve us.
Life is now encased in safety and dying has been hijacked by those in authority. Interacting with your artisan food provider is forbidden for fear of spreading a deadly disease. Smiling at the human sitting next to you has been eradicated. Neighbors have to keep their distance.
In part, human life is sustained by connection and interaction. We now seem to be living longer while becoming less human. In our quest for safety, we are handing away our humanity to those who profit from our fears.
Officially there are no fates worse than death. Unofficially, there is a profusion of such fates. For some people, just living with the thought that they will die is a fate worse than death itself. Thomas Ligotti
Botanicals are familiar…in their capacity to enact cycles of birth and death. In nature as in medicine, themes of health, illness, reciprocity, and vulnerability are essential features of participation in these cycles.
There is no life without death. A seed fades away while giving life to its successor. By being alive, we are necessarily part of the natural cycle of life and death. Sapiens may be the most intelligent species, potentially capable of prolonging their lifespan. This however comes with a cost: a life less human.
Should perhaps our intelligence be directed at improving life; the life of all sentient beings? What if death was accepted as part of life? What if human life was once again in balance with that of nature? What if organisms — animal and human — lived vertically well until horizontal death?
My friend’s dog could have been on a leash but she would not have been chasing a rabbit. She would not have felt the wind in her fur, the thrill of the chase, and the joy of life.
Death will happen. Let us not cede living to safety.