The Death of Cells, and of Us

At 63, I’ve experienced many bouts of cell-death.  Some, like the nerves in my right ear that the mumps virus killed when I was 6, are irreversible.  Others, like the system in my prostate that sometimes doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, Big Pharma augments, though not without side effects (headache, stuffiness and, mainly, impoverishment: $20 for each 5 mg Cialis).

But what happens when huge numbers of critical cells go, like those electrically firing heartbeats, squeezing chambers that circulate blood, filtering toxins, processes described in unique detail in Katy Butler’s book Knocking on Heaven’s Door, and by the recently-departed Dr. Sherwin Nuland (see his last book “How We Die” and his TED talk). The answer used to be that we pass (hopefully quickly and blissfully).

Today, though, we allow the medical system to keep us clinging to life. We reflexively accept medical intervention, as if the moment of passing is to be avoided in all cases and at any cost. The fact is, though, that the medical system offers us lots of tools and processes to maintain life but, like Home Depot, little in the way of assistance in figuring out whether and when to use them.  And, whether out of hubris that way overstates our individual importance, or for fear of the moment when we lose consciousness not for a night but forever, we submit, most often without first reasonably assessing the implications.

This blog invites discussion of refusing forms medical intervention both small and large, a subject detailed in the 1970’s by Ivan Illich in his book “Medical Nemesis”, and probably earlier.

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