The role medicine should play in death

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As a society, we have made great advances in the medical field. Progress in medicine and technologies have not only made it possible for people to live much longer, but also delay death when it seems imminent. As a result, our understanding of death has changed a lot over the years. Death is no longer seen as a natural process that every human being will eventually go through. For the most part, death is seen as a failure of the medical system to keep someone alive – regardless of the critical situation that person might himself/herself to be in. Medicine has become so efficient at treating people that often, we forget that it can fail. Therefore, we often we refuse to address this question: what should medicine do when it cannot save our lives?

This is, of course, a very subjective question. The answer to that question should not become a law abiding everyone. It is essentially a matter of “quality over quantity”. Would somebody prefers to live a long period of time miserably? Or, would he or she rather live a short, happy life? Personally, I feel like, if medicine cannot save someone’s life, then it should at least make the last moment of it better. One thing is pretty certain, no matter how advanced medicine gets, it will never be able to stop death. No matter how far the drugs, the medical equipment, and the doctor are able to push the limit of life, death will always catch up to us. Therefore, medicine should focus a little more on how to let people die. This seems rather like an oxymoron, given that the primary role of medicine is to keep us alive. However, death is a part of living; not just something that comes after it. If medicine cannot save one’s life, at least it should make dying easier.

 In all aspects of life, people seem to value quality over quantity. For instance, most people would rather have a few, but good and reliable friends, than having a bunch of dishonest ones. Similarly, most people would rather be pain free even for a short amount of time, than live a long life of suffering – in both cases, death is inevitable. So when it is clear that medicine cannot save people, then it should make the end of life more enjoyable, not only for the person who’s dying, but also for the family that will have to deal with the loss of someone dear.

Death and the Media

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The media has such an influence in our lives that it affects our beliefs, tastes, and generally, the way we deal with certain situations. It acts as a guideline to society, dictating our behavior, and occasionally, even feelings. Death, and our understanding of it, certainly doesn’t escape the influence of the media. Because the media portrays death as a moment of great sadness and sorrow, there’s always a great deal of respect for the dead, and sympathy for the mourners, displayed in the news. Unless the person is Osama Bin Laden, then it is strictly unacceptable for people to cheer or be happy because somebody has died – regardless of how that person lived his or her life. For instance, before his death, the well-renown and beloved Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno had fallen out of grace. After having been the head coach for a very long time, Joe Paterno was fired after allegations that he had failed to report cases of sexual abuses on minors, perpetrated by his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Despite the gravity of the allegations, and the disgust that a lot of people felt that such atrocity was allowed to continue over a long period of time, Joe Paterno, after his death, was given sort of a pass in the media, as many did not want to disrespect his memory. So the media teaches to be respectful of the dead, regardless of who that person was. It also teaches us to honor the memory of the dead. And there could not be a greater example of that than the commemoration of the victim of 9/11, twelve years after the terrorist attack that took the lives of thousands of Americans.

 When it comes to movies, however, the portrayal of death is slightly different; it carries a little bit more religious connotation. The media usually does not mention the idea of afterlife. While it certainly promotes the remembrance of people’s life, it rarely does however, make reference to heaven, or the idea that one’s spirit still lives on. In movies though, this idea is very prevalent. Words such as “lost one”, “departed”, “left”, “gone”, and “passed away”, are often used to describe those who have died. Those words portray the idea that the person simply went to another place, a better place, as people like to think. Case in point, in “Harry Potter”, Harry often finds himself in situation where his deceased parents help him, which conveys the idea that death isn’t absolute; that somehow, the dead are looking over us (from above). Additionally, the dead are often portrayed as sources of strength and inspiration for the living. In “A walk to remember”, London is able to accomplish his goals in honor of his deceased young wife, Jamie.

Ultimately, whether the different portrayals of death in the media are helpful, misleading, or unclear, depends on one’s own beliefs. To some people, it might be very helpful to think that their loved ones aren’t totally gone; that they’re looking over them. To others, this idea might seem misleading because their beliefs don’t allow them to think that their loved ones looking over them from above. It is important to note that the portrayal of death by the media is really general. The general assumption in the media is that everyone deals with death almost the same way. It’s a time of sadness, grievance, and remembrance. The use of language certainly supports the idea that America is a “death denying culture”. Often times during interviews, people are granted a moment when it’s getting hard for them to talk about a beloved person who have passed away, and it is very common for people to observe a minute of silence in the memory of the dead.