Is Dying Of Cancer Really The Best Way To Die?
An article written by Richard Smith which appeared yesterday in the BMJ blog has sparked some controversy. The provocative title of the blog: Dying of cancer is the best death was enough to raise dissent among many commentators.
Smith outlines the reason why he believes cancer is the best way to die:
You can say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favourite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare, according to your beliefs, to meet your maker or enjoy eternal oblivion.
Hmmh! This statement reminds me very much of the controversy stirred up this time last year by the Guardian writer Emma Keller’s comments on Lisa Adams’ openness about her metastatic breast cancer. I went back to re-read Keller’s husband’s defence of his wife and his laudatory words about his father-in-law who died “without any fuss” of cancer “….allowed to slip peacefully from life…His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America.”
Smith would no doubt agree with Bill Keller; both men deplore the prolonging of life. Smith acknowledges that his view is an idealised one – but it’s one he clings to:
This is, I recognise, a romantic view of dying, but it is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky. But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.
Not everyone who dies of cancer has this peaceful idealised death. My own mother’s death from brain cancer was far removed from romantic. Both men write of a dignified and peaceful death, along the lines of our work here is done on earth – but what of the young mother with metastatic cancer who desperately wants to be there for her children growing up? Is love, morphine and whisky enough to ease her pain?
For wonderfully eloquent ripostes, read: