So, I've been thinking about death recently. Reading this article on FT prompted further ruminations. I think I'll just think out loud here for a bit.
Is there such a thing as a good death? In our society there is so much equivocation that it is difficult to conclusively answer this and other questions, because there is not universally accepted definition of "good."
Positing some opinions:
1. Death cannot be a "good" of the body because it detracts from rather than perfects the body's "being".
2. Death is inevitable in the current human condition (unaltered by divine intervention e.g. Enoch, Elijah).
3. It is possible for an evil of the body to be preferable to another evil. This is true objectively as well as situationally and relatively. (Preferable to lose a toe than a leg. Preferable to be martyred for one's faith than to recant; but preferable to surrender one's wallet than be shot.)
4. Are "better" and "preferable" synonyms? Can one legitimately say that one evil is better than another? Certainly, one evil of the body can be less egregious than another evil of the body.
5. Thus, one death can conceivably be less of an evil than another death.
6. And yet, the imperfection of the body wrought by death is not the only evil attendant thereon.
The state of the soul must be also in view inasmuch as death closes the opportunity for the actions and grace given in earthly life. The soul is foreclosed upon and an account required.
7. Therefore, if a person be a Christian (the definition of which is understood for these purposes) at the time of death, the result is eternal bliss, the person's accounting being that of Christ's righteousness. And in due time the body will be resurrected imperishable, an unquestionable good of the body. Thus, an evil of the body may be a necessary precursor to the final end of the soul and the perfection (good) of the body.
8. And yet, if a person be not a Christian at the time of death, then death marks the ending of that time in which a person may apprehend and believe the Gospel, without which eternity holds but separation from God (man's final end). This is an unquestionable evil of body and soul.
9. So we conclude that death is an evil of the body which is followed immediately either by a good of the body and soul or by an evil of the body and soul depending upon the state of the soul previous to death, death preventing any alteration in the state of the soul. A double evil being undoubtedly worse than a single evil leading to a far better good, the death of a person as a Christian is indubitably "better" than the death of a person as an unbeliever.
10. If it is true that a single evil is less harmful to one's being than multiplied evils, than one could conceivably hold that death pure and simple is "better" than death accompanied by other evils of the body.
11. And yet, death is never pure and simple: death occurs in a context, in a situation, from causes, modified by circumstances. Some of these circumstances include the following:
- place: where the death takes place.
- people: who is present and what actions they take.
- pain: level and duration of pain leading up do death.
- cause/pathophysiology/course: if natural causes, this is the way the cause of death plays itself out in the body.
- conditions: what the environment is like (noise, tubes, machines, personal incontinence, linens, restraints).
- spiritual readiness: see items 6-9, last rites/sacraments
- awareness: level of measurable awareness of all other circumstances/approaching death
- activity and distress: extent to which the dying person's body moves, indicates distress, fights death.
- presence of "life prolonging" measures: tube feedings, CPR, mechanical ventilation, heart pacing, etc.
12. Because the above circumstances can be modified or managed, the evils accompanying death can be lessened or decreased.