Is dignity worth dying for? Death is not a natural part of life

Some people feel death is a natural part of life. Not so, says A&E Editor Bill Thomas, in his retort to Opinion Editor Carly Yamrus’ earlier editorial.

Y’know what’s been on my mind a lot lately? Death.

I know how morbid that sounds, but don’t worry. I’m not a serial killer or a suicide case, and I haven’t been listening to a lot of Joy Division recently.

Here’s the deal: On Tuesday, Sept. 4, my grandmother died. After suffering a stroke, her second in four years, she was left unable to swallow food. Her health deteriorated and the inevitable happened.

Except, it wasn’t inevitable.

Years before, she had specified that if the time ever came where she needed a feeding tube, she didn’t want one. Part of me sympathizes, but another part will always resent that. In this case, it’s not like she was brain-dead. She was simply unable to ingest, on her own, the nutrition needed to sustain life.

Some will argue that there are times when accepting death is a positive thing, times when either the financial cost, the physical cost or the psychological cost of fighting death simply isn’t worth it. Some will argue that dying isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person, but that dying without dignity is.

My retort? There is no such thing as dying with dignity.


You know what “dying with dignity” is? It’s an erroneous trope perpetuated by an overly idealistic motion-picture industry, which leads us to believe that we, on our death-beds, can go quietly into everlasting slumber with some sense of peace and honor. How quaint.

Truth is, we all go hurting and afraid, moaning and miserable, covered in our own urine, feces and fear. Everyone dreads death. It’s hard-wired into our brains, a biological imperative as relentlessly motivating as the need to breed.

The only ones who don’t are the ones who go suddenly and unexpectedly. And, heck, even they have a half-second of pain, confusion and bowel/bladder evacuation, in which all traces of dignity and peace are purged before the horrible transition from warm humanity to cold pile-of-rotting-meat is finally complete.

If the recommendation here is to simply quit while we’re ahead, to embrace the end before things get really rough, why shouldn’t we just eat a bullet when we’re young and beautiful, instead of waiting for the first corrosive effects of age to creep in?

We’re all dying, after all. Slowly, but surely.

The idea that “death is a natural part of life” is a wrong-headed cliché borrowed from Eastern and New Age philosophies that we’ve been using for generations now to make ourselves feel more enlightened and transcendent than we really are. It’s a flimsy notion snipped right from the same hackneyed, ham-handed cloth as “Everything happens for a reason” and “God works in mysterious ways.”

The idea that “death is a natural part of life” is like the concept of the afterlife, a fabrication we’ve devised to comfort ourselves and make the inevitable somehow digestible. It makes us feel like our own deaths are just another link in some great, big, beautiful “circle of life.”

Hakuna matata, right?

Except death is not a part of life, despite what all the would-be Buddhas out there would have you believe. Death is the polar opposite of life. In actuality, the very essence of life is the whole snarling, spitting, frantic fight to stay as far away from death as possible. Suffering and struggle are part of that.

Nothing should be more important than life; not financial debt, not escape from pain, not promises made, not even liberty and justice for all (sorry, all you idealists who put political martyrs on pedestals, I think you’re nuts). It’s certainly more important than some half-baked virtue like “dignity.”

No measure of life is trivial, no procedure to prolong it unreasonable. The moment you “accept death” as a “natural part of life,” you’re already dead.

Simply put, “giving up” and “giving in” mean the exact same thing. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.