> death :this section "death" refers to our efforts to use technology to lengthen our lifespans, augment health, and improve our bodies."... mankind, unconscious of its real desires and therefore unable to obtain satifaction, is hostile to life and ready to destroy itself."
in many ways, our successes in these areas result from our success with regard to sustenance and relations.
health is a collective decision; infectious diseases have a broad reach. in order to address these issues, much health technology is mandatory, because the burden on society and the risk to individuals is lessened if everyone participates.
for example, vaccines, or water fluoridation.
there are those who argue otherwise however, that the technology decisions forced upon us are responsible for other illnesses, an endless cycle of creation and use of debilitating health technologies.
ultimately, since we are willing only to apply easier, cosmetic solutions to deep problems (olestra, for example), we are only going to drive ourselves deeper into misery, and perhaps destruction:
- Christopher Lasch, introduction to Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death, page xviii
this menacing ignorance is apparent as we use medical technologies to answer problems created by other human inventions. plenty has created fat, so we have liposuction and diet pills. pollution and stress, afforded by post-industrial society, are treated with vitamin supplements. as we develop more technology problems and increase our machine responses we become increasingly coded, technologically determined. even at this point, today, in America, if we were to lose our machine support system (food distribution, for example) we would lose lives as well. for some this intertwining of body and machine is tantamount to death, when humanity loses itself to the dark side of the subconscious, destruction of nature by order.One-hundred-and-fifty elderly
one such a thinker might be Norman O. Brown, who's Life Against Death holds history in conflict with Freud and Nietzsche. in the section, "Death, Time and Eternity," he proclaims our human "...flight from death that distinguishes [us] from animals"(page 100). our monuments and ideas, economics and religion, are tied up in this persuit of life beyond death - building things that will last, and promising life after this one. this, for Brown, is what keeps us from living in the moment, from enjoying life as it should be enjoyed, in the now.
apply this thinking to medical technology, and our relentless drugging and cutting and waiting keeps us from being active engaged healthy people. we pay doctors to prop up our distended lives while we work to have health insurance benefits, and then when we get to "retirement" we are too old to engage the life we had in our bodies when we were working so hard. we are then alone again, with our televisions, much like our youth. but besides matlock, and perhaps the home shopping network, we are not culturally conscious of elderly people plugged in to television. we have removed the elderly largely from sight by confining them to age-specific sites, and so are we collectively unaware of the likely endpoint of life-sustaining technologies.
Jorge Argueta, a poet from El Salvador, takes a disturbing look at the (American) end of the modern medical miracle, in his poem "Asylum":
crying in the asylum
who've been abandoned
without anybody's love
gazing out of the
who aren't as old
as they are isolated from life
One-hundred-and-fifty poor elderly
Oh how they love their elderly
- Jorge Argueta, "Asylum," Love Street, page 33
by focusing so much on the life of the individual being sustained, we have lost our human connections that sustain life. life means lifespan, but life also means sitting around the kitchen table. perhaps with our medical miracles, we have been thinking too much about quantity and not enough about quality of life.
(but then neither Jorge nor i are elderly and living in a home. perhaps it is better to be alive, suffering and alone, for most folks, than it is to be dead, period.)
The public debate over appropriate aging takes place in large part over one man, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, single-handedly responsible for the largest number of (acknowledged) euthenasia cases in the United States in the 90s ("Kevorkian, ... has acknowledged being involved in more than 100 deaths since beginning his assisted-suicide campaign in 1990..." (Cyanide used in death linked to Kevorkian," CNN)). what Doctor Jack Kevorkian represents is not another technology, but a turning off of the machine. those who speak for him and against him debate the choice of the patient, whether Kevorkian coerces the aged and infirm into killing themselves, or whether he is simply a tool for the suffering. the right or ability to choose to die is beyond the ill in the opinion of the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, and Kevorkian's death tools represent a dangerous opportunity for efficiency. they argue that the medical establishment can and should keep those people alive, without much pain.
whether people have a right to die is a base articulation of the issues of participation in systems created by technology (expertise and determinism) - do people have a right to remove themselves from the flow of human events? using medical technology to facilitate dying is anathema to many of those who have directed their entire medical career towards sustaining life and repressing death. that repression could someday kill us, or make life unlivable, if our machines don't first.