"The Way We Die Now" by Seamus O'Mahony

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"The Way We Die Now" by Seamus O'Mahony

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Sun Oct 29, 2017 8:13 pm

This book was published last year Thomas Dunne Books in the UK and St. Martin's Press in the US. I liked it and agree with much of what the author says, but not everything he says.

First of all, he wants us to talk more frankly about death. This is analogous to all those authors back in the 1950s and 1960s who wanted more open and honest talk about sex, at a time when sex was being talked about non-stop in every newspaper, magazine, movie, and television drama. The same is true now. And why not? Death has always been one of the sure-fire ticket-sellers for authors. That's what tragedy is all about. So, one of his premises is wrong.

Broadly speaking, he wants the medical profession to get realistic and stop caving to all the desperate requests for futile treatments made by patients who refuse to accept their mortality. He has a number of horror stories about patients and their families who didn't want him to tell them bluntly that there was nothing he could do for them, families and hospital staff who set aside the clear wishes of a patient who wants "Do Not Resuscitate" care, and those on the other side who try to get the law changed so their doctor can kill them legally. (Note: In Vermont, we have such a "death with dignity" law, but it looks pretty useless to me. You have to get your physician to certify that you are unlikely to live more than six more months. For such a short period, hell, just go to palliative/terminal care and get a morphine pump if you can't face the fear and the discomfort.)

So, I do agree with much of what he says. He wants people to face their mortality instead of trying to deny it. Well, OK. But (as he admits in the end), he's not in a position to give other people advice on how they should die, never having done it himself. He makes much of the cases of Christopher Hitchens and Susan Sontag, both of whom tried some highly doubtful medical procedures (and both of whom died). In fact, he just can't seem to stay away from the case of Hitchens. He foreshadows the story early on, then tells it in detail, and then comes back and summarizes it several times. I suspect Hitchens must have annoyed him sometime. He insists that Hitchens retreated into fantasy in believing that these treatments might cure him and thereby, he says, repudiated the hard-headed realism that he promoted all of his life. That is grossly unfair. It is true that Hitchens tried a lot of bizarre procedures to stay alive. But, the man had Stage 4 esophageal cancer ! What would you have done? He could have resigned himself to death and sat around waiting for it, but I'm guessing a person with that affliction probably wasn't going to be having much joy in life. Suppose I was left without any source of income and knew that I would very soon be completely penniless. I could sit quietly and wait for my chance to go on the dole. Or, I might just go out and buy lottery tickets with the small amount of money I had left. I know the chances of winning are infinitesimally larger than zero. So what? They are exactly zero if I do nothing. I may not believe I'm going to win; I may know it's very doubtful, indeed nearly impossible. Still, it might cheer me up to know that it is at least possible.

Hitchens, the author admits, remained a stoic and true atheist to the end and didn't whine about having to die. Susan Sontag was a different case. She raged against the dying of the light and refused to accept what her doctor was telling her.

The author tells us he was raised as a Catholic, but doesn't tell us what his current opinions are (which is fine—he is under no obligation to do so). He admits that he misses the old rituals of extreme unction, and the wake, which, he says, enabled people to die with more courage. Well, fine. The only trouble, as I see it, is that the whole thing is a fable. I am not young, and I'm still comfortable with living as I now do, but I'm not (I hope) going to be desperate enough to try to fool whatever gods there may be by pretending to believe in their divinity and my own immortality. That's too high a price to pay for dignity in dying. In any case, I'd know I was only pretending, and so surely whatever god I was pretending to pray to, if real, would also know.
"A general conversion among the boys was once effected by the late excellent Mr. Fletcher: one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged; which did not fail of the desired effect, and impressed proper notions of religion on his mind."

James Lackington, Memoirs of the First Forty-five Years of the Life of James Lackington, the Present Bookseller

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Re: "The Way We Die Now" by Seamus O'Mahony

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Sun Oct 29, 2017 8:34 pm

I"ll quibble on the Lottery thing.........because.......what would you even do if you won it?

Its a false equation.......its true if you don't play you can't win.........but do SOMETHING ELSE with the money you have to do something that will actually make your life better? EG: save up for a very nice dinner at a top location?....buy that electronic gadget that really is a waste of money, but might be fun for 2-3 days? ((But not that twirly fidget thing that looks entirely useless to me, but still better than a pet rock?)). Or even....just buy an ice cream for some kiddie on the boardwalk. Lottery = burn your money instead, the flame is pretty.

I'd add Steve Jobs to your list of end of life fanatics..................but ........... on theme............ if you have the money....what else to spend it on? NON-INVASIVE procedures, no matter how dubious, are supportable to me. Not "for" me.....except for the argument.

You know.............when I think of what I want to DO with my life.....its still to travel and see new places. But I can't do that these days. My routine used to be to go to some new place and just walk around. WALK....on my own. Talk to people I met, help other people with some routine duty. I don't want an escorted tour, and I can't walk all day long like I used to. So.......even if I won the lottery, I can't do what I want to do. ..................why am I thinking "exo-skeleton" right now? could that be any fun at all, clanking around like that? Still on the verge of a first class VR set up........maybe I'll catch the VR on Google Earth just in time to finish my days walking whereever Google Earth has gone before?
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Re: "The Way We Die Now" by Seamus O'Mahony

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Mon Oct 30, 2017 11:03 am

bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote:I"ll quibble on the Lottery thing.........because.......what would you even do if you won it?

Its a false equation.......its true if you don't play you can't win.........but do SOMETHING ELSE with the money you have to do something that will actually make your life better? EG: save up for a very nice dinner at a top location?....buy that electronic gadget that really is a waste of money, but might be fun for 2-3 days? ((But not that twirly fidget thing that looks entirely useless to me, but still better than a pet rock?)). Or even....just buy an ice cream for some kiddie on the boardwalk. Lottery = burn your money instead, the flame is pretty.

I'd add Steve Jobs to your list of end of life fanatics..................but ........... on theme............ if you have the money....what else to spend it on? NON-INVASIVE procedures, no matter how dubious, are supportable to me. Not "for" me.....except for the argument.

You know.............when I think of what I want to DO with my life.....its still to travel and see new places. But I can't do that these days. My routine used to be to go to some new place and just walk around. WALK....on my own. Talk to people I met, help other people with some routine duty. I don't want an escorted tour, and I can't walk all day long like I used to. So.......even if I won the lottery, I can't do what I want to do. ..................why am I thinking "exo-skeleton" right now? could that be any fun at all, clanking around like that? Still on the verge of a first class VR set up........maybe I'll catch the VR on Google Earth just in time to finish my days walking whereever Google Earth has gone before?


My lottery example was the "hail Mary" way of avoiding bankruptcy for a person condemned to be penniless. It wasn't about quality of life, just about economics. The theoretical person I had in mind would know exactly what to do with the money: Use it to buy the necessaries of life and a few comforts, and give the rest away.

You don't have to convince me of the foolhardiness of lotteries, or even the foolhardiness of great wealth. An old (probably apocryphal) Chinese proverb I read back in the 1950s has stuck with me ever since: Even from the largest river in the world, you can drink only as much as your stomach will hold.

As for the lotteries, I imagine the Power Ball numbers as the serial numbers on dollar bills. Laid end-to-end, they would encircle the earth at the equator, with enough left over to put a solid track of dollar bills all the way from Boston to Los Angeles. But you've got a chance of picking up the ONE bill with the winning serial number. Sure you do. Somebody does, at least every few weeks. Not surprising, though. If a billion people play the game (and a billion people do, every month), it's very likely that someone, somewhere will win. As the shameless promoters of the game here say, "You never know." And as a colleague of mine reminded people over the radio, "Yes, you DO know."

People who go on amassing wealth in the obscene amounts we are now seeing are forging their own chains, quite as much as Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge did. Possessions take time to acquire, maintain, and mainly enjoy. Time is the one thing that is quite limited for even the wealthiest. And, as the proverb says, human beings have only a finite capacity to enjoy their possessions. Increasing the number of those possessions will not increase enjoyment.

As you say, the great thing is to know what activities bring real satisfaction. Owning a sailboat is fine if you want to spend a lot of time sailing. If you don't, having a yacht is a distraction. Likewise, owning four houses is going to decrease anyone's quality of life. That a few people have that much money to spend in such a frivolous manner when so many billions of people are on the edge of starvation is the great obscenity of our time.
"A general conversion among the boys was once effected by the late excellent Mr. Fletcher: one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged; which did not fail of the desired effect, and impressed proper notions of religion on his mind."

James Lackington, Memoirs of the First Forty-five Years of the Life of James Lackington, the Present Bookseller

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Re: "The Way We Die Now" by Seamus O'Mahony

Postby TJrandom » Mon Oct 30, 2017 11:59 am

On our local hospital patient portal, we have registered DNR, and we also registered on a commercial site so that we would have widely recognized DNR cards in our wallets, alongside our IDs and national insurance certificates. When it is time to go, I don`t want it extended by tubes and mechanics.

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Re: "The Way We Die Now" by Seamus O'Mahony

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Mon Oct 30, 2017 5:58 pm

TJ--if you have an opinion, when is the time to go?
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Re: "The Way We Die Now" by Seamus O'Mahony

Postby TJrandom » Tue Oct 31, 2017 8:30 am

bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote:TJ--if you have an opinion, when is the time to go?


I`d say - when no longer able to care for onself and upon becoming a burden on others and society - self determined of course.

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Re: "The Way We Die Now" by Seamus O'Mahony

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Tue Oct 31, 2017 4:26 pm

TJ's criteria seem reasonable. Of course, it's a personal choice, and different people require different things for an acceptable quality of life. As O'Mahony points out, even people totally paralyzed and trapped inside their brains, forced to communicate with eyeblinks often report that they are still enjoying life. Sounds terribly boring to me, but then anyone in this condition would have to have help to get out of it. It isn't actually possible to be bored to death.
"A general conversion among the boys was once effected by the late excellent Mr. Fletcher: one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged; which did not fail of the desired effect, and impressed proper notions of religion on his mind."

James Lackington, Memoirs of the First Forty-five Years of the Life of James Lackington, the Present Bookseller

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Re: "The Way We Die Now" by Seamus O'Mahony

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Tue Oct 31, 2017 7:29 pm

TJrandom wrote:
bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote:TJ--if you have an opinion, when is the time to go?


I`d say - when no longer able to care for onself and upon becoming a burden on others and society - self determined of course.

Thats my standard as well...........although I did post my absolute bottom line above.......only one step above what Upton just posted. Ha, ha........my "lifestyle" isn't that far from eye-blinking comatose right now. Not the life of "wandering" I had thought for years would be my choice.

"What Happened?" That "?" does make a huge difference.
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