Dying has lost its dignity. This is the claim made by Irish doctor Seamus O’Mahony in The Way We Die Now. O’Mahony argues that we have over-medicalised death—that we punish terminally ill patients with degrading and, in many cases, pointless attempts to prolong their lives. We should instead, he argues, accept death’s inevitability and leave life in an atmosphere of calm acceptance.
Mahony’s account of how this “sanitisation” of death has happened is complicated. His main argument is that it originates in our increased anxiety around death, which has come about because fewer people in the west are religious. Therefore we carry out unnecessary medical procedures, even when there is no hope, as a way of kidding ourselves that death can be prevented.