Sherwin B Nuland is an American writer/doctor who argues here – in fact protests too much, methinks – that finding out as much as we can about death beforehand will rob it of its terrors. I doubt it. Acknowledging death, yes, instead of denying it; mustering up any spiritual beliefs or experiences we can, yes; but does it help to read in advance about every squeeze of the throttled artery, every gasp of the choking throat, every failure of the drowning lungs? One seldom encounters a ‘good’ death or a dignified one, says Nuland; ‘decreasing the mess’ is the best that can be done. Thanks for the tip, Doc. How We Die is all-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-death-but-had-better-not-ask. Personally I shall try to forget Chapter 1 (‘The Strangled Heart’) and Chapter 10 (‘The Malevolence of Cancer’) and a good deal of the section on Alzheimer’s disease.
Other, related topics than these ghastly processes come up, of course – euthanasia, suicide, the important question of how much should be told to dying people about their prognosis. Curiously for someone so eager to tell us of unwelcome details, Nuland is ambivalent about euthanasia and cites two very untypical