Fragile Lives: Death, Dying and Care

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Allen & Unwin, Jan 1, 2001 - Health & Fitness - 165 pages
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Death is inevitable, yet we often behave as if we will live forever. So when we meet someone who is dying, their fragility is a sharp and often unwelcome reminder of our own mortality. How does this affect the way in which individuals, health professionals and social institutions deal with death and dying?

Beverley McNamara looks at death from a sociological perspective. Arguing that despite popular belief death does not make us equal, she shows that dying is a chaotic and uncertain process. Yet despite the disorderly manner in which people die, McNamara demonstrates that social and cultural patterns can be found in the way we approach dying and the care of terminally ill people. She examines the medicalisation of care for the dying, attitudes of carers and the notion of the 'good death'. She also explores the euthanasia debate and our fear of cancer.

Drawing on wide-ranging qualitative research, Fragile Lives is a sensitive analysis of the social issues surrounding death.

'...a clear and accessible critical discussion of current issues such as euthanasia and the changing role of palliative care...'

David Field, Professor of Sociology of Palliative Care, Centre for Cancer and Palliative Care Studies, The Institute of Cancer Research, The Royal Marsden Hospital, London

'I have been waiting for a book like this. An experienced anthropologist addresses many of the issues which concern those of us who work with death and dying, bringing to our situation an authority founded in perceptive observation and scholarship.'

Emeritus Professor Ian Maddocks, Daw House Hospice, Adelaide

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Masking pain or masking death?
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Page 74 - This is because medicine offers modern man the obstinate, yet reassuring face of his finitude; in it, death is endlessly repeated, but it is also exorcized; and although it ceaselessly reminds man of the limit that he bears within him, it also speaks to him of that technical world that is the armed, positive, full form of his finitude.
Page 5 - Insofar as the knowledge of death cannot be avoided in any society, legitimations of the reality of the social world in the face of death are decisive requirements in any society.
Page 4 - Man's consciously lived fragility, individuality and relatedness make the experience of pain, of sickness and of death an integral part of his life. The ability to cope with this trio autonomously is fundamental to his health.
Page 59 - Illich (1976, p. 271) notes that in traditional cultures, '. . . pain was recognised as an inevitable part of the subjective reality of one's own body'.
Page 144 - M 1993 Attitudes to some aspects of death and dying, living wills and substituted health care decision-making in South Australia: public opinion survey for a parliamentary select committee.
Page 146 - Paterson], et al. (1998): Sedation for intractable distress in the dying - a survey of experts.
Page 13 - The dignity that we seek in dying must be found in the dignity with which we have lived our lives.
Page 39 - Fluids were extracted, specialists' opinions accumulated, machines produced images of the insides of my body, but the diagnosis remained uncertain. One day I returned to my room and found a new sign below my name on the door. It said "Lymphoma," a form of cancer I was suspected of having. No one had told me that this diagnosis, which later proved to be wrong, had been confirmed. Finding it written there was like the joke about the guy who learns he has been fired when he finds someone else's name...
Page 33 - ... informants view cancer as a minion of fate that may punish those who notice or defy it; to think about cancer, to try to prevent it, is to tempt fate. Cancer testing is "looking for trouble.

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About the author (2001)

Beverley McNamara lectures in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Western Australia.

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