Death is inevitable—the way we deal with it isn'tby Tom Clark / March 23, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Taxes aside, death is supposed to be the one certainty we have—the inevitable. But the way we reckon with it, how we grieve and even how we slip away, these are all things that can and do change.
Science has been restless, and remarkably successful, in keeping people “with us” for longer than before. Sometimes, tthe machinery of medicine creates a new penumbra, in which people are neither alive or dead. Cathy Rentzenbrink, whose brother’s unconscious body deteriorated over eight years, explains why she thinks a quick end is kinder than a long spell in this twilight zone.
Happily, in most circumstances, longer lives have been unambiguously to the good: nobody, for example, would want to return to a world where infectious diseases routinely cut healthy lives short. Society, however, always mediates how effective the evolving science can be. Chillingly, in the United States, the last couple of years have seen progress on life expectancy slip into reverse.
In March, new official data in the UK showed infant deaths, which had been falling for as long as anyone could remember, picking up for a second year. Britain’s leading epidemiologist, Michael Marmot, delves into the population-wide numbers, and reports that a century of progress looks like petering out, with the detail suggesting that this could be connected to inequality.