Death in America

Death in America is politicized, just as our lives are. The options and choices available to the dying and their families vary not just by condition but location and legislation. We have the right to die via physician-assisted suicide in five states now, and the right to kill the unborn in all 50.

When we address issues through a political lens we lose focus on the morality of the issue. Questions shift from what we should and shouldn’t do to what we can and can’t do, and who will pay for it.

Death is unpleasant, unavoidable, and unfair. The increase in states allowing physician-assisted death, the prevalence of abortion based on prenatal screenings, and the end-of-life choices families make for their loved ones brings us closer to the ethical debates over euthanasia. As medical technology pushes forward at a dizzying rate, the boundaries for what is possible will continue to change, often without time for people to think through the ethics and applications of the advances.

It is now possible to have non-invasive early prenatal testing for chromosomal differences like Down Syndrome. The Lozier Institute breaks down the consequences of increased access to screenings, and the result is an increase in abortions of babies with suspected Down Syndrome.

And yet with all the choices and seeming autonomy we’ve worked so hard to assert over death, there’s still deep dissatisfaction over how we actually die. It’s humbling and painful to realize that no matter what laws are passed, what rhetoric we cling to, death is not under our control. The New York Times ran an op-ed on the ugliness in our current system of death.

The author of this piece has sought a solution to this by entering medical school. This is outside the vocational possibilities of most of us, but that doesn’t mean that we are without options in how we care for our families as they die. Instead of fearing death, of making it something that comes by choice for those we should instead protect, we should return death to its proper place in the order of life.

Death was never meant to be under our control.

Death was never meant to be a choice when a baby doesn’t fit our plans or vision for our family. Instead of fighting over the right to die and the right to decide death for others, we should be working for compassionate care for our sick. Death is not an option and it shouldn’t be treated as one.


Holly Scheer

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