Pontificating from armchairs across the country, the nation has watched as the parents of Jahi McMath fought to keep their daughter on life support and the husband of Marlise Muñoz fights to take her off life support. Our TV screens are filled with a slew of experts passionately defending each side of the argument. When does life start and end? What does it mean when the brain is dead but the heart is still beating?
In the Western world, nine out of ten deaths are due to aging. Then we know what to do. Granny doesn’t wake up one day and we mourn her passing but there is no debate as to whether or not she died.
It’s the other one out of ten cases when we have problems. When it was too young, too soon, too unexpected. It’s harder when medical science gives us the chance to hold on, to keep our precious daughter or to give the unborn child a chance to live. Then we have to create a definition of what it means to die. When medicine can give a body life almost indefinitely we are asked to choose when death comes.
Most of us are not ready to do that. We watch the drama unfold on our TV screens and we shake our heads and bemoan the fate of someone else. We don’t open the Scripture and our hearts. We don’t sift through medical journals and weigh up philosophical arguments. We let the questions go unanswered and hope we never have to decide.
But there’s a one in ten chance you’ll be the one whose death lies in the balance. If not you, then maybe a loved one. Perhaps, it’s worth dedicating at least the same amount of time you spent filling in your tax return, to understanding the nature of death. Then, when the time comes and the doctor is waiting for a decision, you know what you want to do. After all it is only death and taxes that we can be sure to see eventually.