That begs an obvious question I’ll start to try to address here:
What IS a Good Death?
Rather than offering my personal take on this, here are links to several articles that discuss the concept of “A Good Death.” These provide a good starting point for further thoughts.
This article provides a simple definition before exploring various aspects of the concept further:
“By most standards, a good death is one in which a person dies on his own terms, relatively free from pain, in a supported and dignified setting.”
This article builds on the work of Dr. Dilip Jeste, director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine to address the question.
“To help open up the conversation in our death-phobic culture, Jeste and his colleagues are working on a broad definition of a “good death” that will help healthcare workers and family members ensure that a dying person’s final moments are as comfortable and meaningful as possible.”
This article from Greater Good magazine delineates seven key aspects for what they consider a “Good Death.”
“Is a ‘good death’ just an oxymoron? Or can the experience of death be far more positive—an opportunity for growth and meaning?”
This is the home page of an organization dedicated to helping realize the concept of a “Good Death.” They encourage everyone to join the “death positive” movement to change our conversation about death & dying.
“The Order is about making death a part of your life. Staring down your death fears—whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above. Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety of modern culture is not.”
David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness, writes regularly in a column called “The Wisdom Project.” Here is his take on the idea of a “Good Death.”
“How do you want to die?
It’s a question that inspires some to grab a sand shovel, dig a hole and stick their heads in it — which, less metaphorically, is a possible answer to the question. But the more we ask this simple yet deeply complicated and personal question, the more its answer will probably determine the difference between a life that ends peacefully or regretfully.”
This article from a website titled “The Art of Dying Well” delves into the discussion from a religious point of view.
“It might seem strange to think of death as something that you can ‘do well’. But, there are few things we would want more for ourselves and our loved ones than a good death.”
Finally, here is an academic paper reviewing available literature and calling for more research on the topic.
“Within the healthcare community and, more specifically, in hospice and palliative care, there has been some discussion of the concept of a good death. This concept arose from the hospice movement and has been described as a multifaceted and individualized experience. According to an Institute of Medicine report published 19 years ago, a good death is one that is “free from avoidable distress and suffering for patient, family, and caregivers, in general accord with the patient’s and family’s wishes, and reasonably consistent with clinical, cultural, and ethical standards.” This concept has received some critique in several disciplines, including medicine, psychology, theology, sociology, and anthropology. In particular, concern has been raised that there is no such thing as an external criterion of a good death and that it is more dependent on the perspectives of the dying individual.”
There are many ways to view death and deal with its inevitability. I believe it is time — past time really — to talk more openly about it. Not all deaths will be “good,” but not all deaths must be bad, either. If we approach our own life’s end as another part of a full life to be experienced thoughtfully and with feeling, maybe we can make some of the suffering and grief we suffer more bearable.