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17Th Annual Meeting Of The European Academy Of Anaesthesiology, Helsinki, 24-27 August 1995. Abstracts Of Selected Free Papers

Death is an integral part of life


Lønning, I.

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European Journal of Anaesthesiology: March 1996 - Volume 13 - Issue 2 - p 171-172
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The attitude towards life in a given society or culture is always revealed most reliably in the attitudes, practices and rituals surrounding death and the process of dying. More generally speaking the quality of life in a human society could not be tested in a more reliable way than by studying how the dying and the bereaved are taken care of and how ceremonies connected with death and mourning are conducted. In dealing with death a human community reveals its basic understanding of life.

The different perspectives on the phenomenon of death have to be carefully distinguished. As a biological phenomenon death is a precondition of the continuity of life. Philosophically death has to be interpreted as an integral part of human experience of life. Within the universe of human imagination death represents the most intricate of all problems for interpretation, insofar as there always remains a tension between the understanding of the limitation of one's own individual existence as a human being. Theologically, which means seen in the perspective offered by the Christian faith, death is an ambiguous phenomenon. On the one hand death can be seen as a distortion of creation and as 'the ultimate enemy' (1 Cor 15, NB: not of individual human beings, but of God, the Creator), yet to be conquered. On the other hand the death and resurrection of Christ can be seen as the definite reconciliation of the world with God (2 Cor 5). In its ambiguity death remains part of the mystery of the humanity of human beings.

The ultimate goal of human life is love. Because human beings are created as social beings, we are in a permanent need of affirmation of our own existence. But that is exactly what makes a straight-forward harmonious interpretation of death impossible, insofar as a part of communal life is terminated by death of another person.

A moral obligation to prolong human life at any cost or by all available means does not exist. Professional ethics of doctors in our tradition has been governed by the trials to heal, to relieve and to comfort. The progress of modern medical technology has profoundly disturbed the balance and increasingly concentrated all attention and emphasis on the function of healing/repairing. The reverse of the achievements of scientific progress is confrontation with the ever more popular idea of death on demand. If the doctor is no longer able to meet the first choice, i.e. healing, he should at least meet the second one, that is instant death, however one must remember that to kill is not to respect the mystery of humanity.

© 1996 European Academy of Anaesthesiology