Bioethics Discussion Blog: “Because I could not stop for Death,He kindly stopped for me;”

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

“Because I could not stop for Death,He kindly stopped for me;”


Emily Dickinson began her poem “Death” with “Because I could not stop for Death,He kindly stopped for me;” (Read the poem at the end of this posting)

In these days of conflicting views of healthcare reform and how it should be constructed, some people feel that “stopping for death” by patients who burdened by infirmities of age or terminal illness should relieve their burdens by rejecting further life-supporting treatment or requesting physician assisted suicide. Is this the way to solve the economic problems of providing needed healthcare to others to make them well or keep them healthy? On the other hand, would it be better to wait for death to have “stopped for me”? To do that and promote beneficence for the patient would be for society to provide proper palliative care (to simply relieve pain and mental or physical suffering) for any type of potential end-of-life disabilities and wait for death’s “carriage”. This approach actually might be less a financial burden on society than paying for perhaps futile attempts to simply preserve and prolong a difficult life.

On the other hand, as John Hardwig writes in the July-August 2009 issue of the Hastings Center Report “Going to Meet Death: The Art of Dying in the First Part of the Twenty First Century”(available by subscription; an excerpt follows)
“I have talked with many different groups about the end of life—health professionals, church and civic groups, ministers and chaplains, adult continuing education groups, AARP chapters, and college students. I talk a little about the traditional fear that death will come too soon. Then I ask, ‘How many of you are afraid that death will come too late for you?’ The result is always the same: about half the audience members raise their hands. Obviously, this fear is widespread and close to the surface. Subsequent discussion reveals that for many of them, too late is not restricted to conditions of chronic or terminal illness, but also can include situations where they are lucid and free of significant pain or illness, yet nevertheless believe they have reached a good time to die. This article is an attempt to give voice to their conviction that death may often be worth pursuing.”

The question: should one have the opportunity to “stop for death” rather than waiting for “death to stop for me”? ..Maurice.

DEATH (Because I Could Not Stop for Death) by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality.

We slowly drove—He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility—

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess—in the Ring—
We passed the fields of Gazing Grain—
We passed the Setting Sun—

Or rather—He passed Us—
The Dews drew quivering and chill—
For only Gossamer, my Gown—
My Tippet—only Tulle—

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground—
The Roof was scarcely visible—
The Cornice—in the Ground—

Since then—'tis Centuries—and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity—


Graphic: Old photograph of Emily Dickinson public domain from Wikipedia.

3 Comments:

At Tuesday, September 15, 2009 9:19:00 AM, Blogger MER said...

It's interesting to note the rest of the Dickenson poem and some of the interpretions.
-- Is this just about the kindness and civility of Death? He drives her slowly in the carriage. Immortality is also in the carriage -- as the chaperone? Why would death need a chaperone?
-- Or, is death really a cruel seducer. Note that the speaker isn't properly dressed for death. More appropriate for a ritual like a wedding. Is Immortality an accomplice in Death's deception?
Like a lot of Dickenson poems, you'll find much ambivalence. The poet, I think, is balancing between the potential lonliness and debilitation death can bring with her faith in the Christian resurrection. The poem is often simply interpreted as the poet's acceptance of death. That's too simple.
I've experienced people who were ready to die. There were not ready for suicide, but they knew it wouldn't be long and they had accepted death.
I've also experienced people who were depressed and willing to die to rid themselves of psychological pain not directly realited to any disease or condition. At least one I knew was subtly being pressured to die by some friends and family.
No doubt there are people who are not depressed and have made a conscious decision to die.
How do we know which case we're dealing with?

 
At Tuesday, September 15, 2009 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Depression may be irrational and can be medically treatable, if help is sought, and could provide the individual a new life. ..Maurice.

 
At Tuesday, March 22, 2011 10:59:00 PM, Blogger RENGACORP said...

More often than not depression can be treated with the tools we were given as youths in Physical Education and Music or Art class. Since the depletion of mandatory enrollment in those courses we've seen a spike in the number of suicides via pharmaceutical overdose. Bring back the mandatory P.E. & Art for today's kids and we'll solve half the battle automatically.

 

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