Could dying be a wonderful adventure?
Published 04 August 2012
Many people dread dying and even many Christians would say they want a peaceful death, but university professor John Wyatt wonders whether there could be more to appreciate about our departure from this world than we think.
Giving this year’s third and final Keswick Lecture, Wyatt said: "Many Christian people, when asked how they want to die, say 'I want to die in my sleep. I don’t want to be a burden to others. I want to die suddenly, and I don’t want to know what is going on'.
"Can you see that to long for this kind of death may not be an authentically Christian longing?
"Couldn’t ‘dying be a wonderful adventure? Maybe God has more to teach you in the process of dying well – and maybe you can be a witness to others as you die faithfully.
"Dying well is an opportunity for reordering priorities, restoring broken relationships, saying goodbye, fulfilling dreams, finding new meaning and preparing to meet God."
Wyatt is Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at University College London.
He went on to urge caution in the debate on assisted dying, warning against the manipulation of language among supporters.
In particular, he criticised the language of Dignity in Dying, formerly called the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
"Their website studiously avoids straightforward words such as 'euthanasia', 'suicide', or 'mercy killing'," he explained.
"Instead it uses vague and euphemistic terms, such as 'a dignified death where suffering is minimised', 'choice and control over how we die', 'assistance to die', and 'the choice to end suffering if it becomes unbearable'."
He warned that a "recurring theme" in medical ethics was the manipulation of language "to make ethically controversial actions more acceptable".
"The manipulation of language usually precedes a widespread change in ethical behaviour," he said.
"It demonstrates how important language is to the way human beings make moral decisions."
As an example, he said it was much nicer to talk about assisted dying, or "death with dignity" than using the harsher term “killing”.
"It’s important to be clear about words – there is a proverb which says 'The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names'."
He concluded that Christians had a responsibility to care for the dying "in the light of the future".
"We must care for people not only in the light of what they once were, but in the light of what, by God’s grace, they are going to be," he said.
"When we love someone in the present, showing practical, empathic, respectful, sacrificial caring, we are also pointing them to the future, to the hope of the resurrection.
"This is why we can still respect and treat with dignity even the most tragically damaged of human beings."
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