The changing ways we live are changing the ways we die, forcing more and more Americans to end their lives in bitter and unattended isolation.
That was the message delivered today by a panel of scientists and theologians to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which heard them say that the rootless roads followed by more and more Americans have led more and more Americans to a lonely ending life.
"What looked like liberation 10 years ago," Boston University's Dr. Alasdair MacIntyre said at a panel titled "The Right to Die," now looks like "rootlessness and isolation, in death as well as in life."
Americans are dying far from family and friends in growing numbers, the panelists said, partly because they have uprooted themselves and partly because family and friends and have been uprooted as well.
Past cultures permitted people to die "garrulously." MacIntyre said, meaning that dying people talked freely of their approaching death to their children and grandchildren. Not only did a garrulous death allow the dying to pass on advice and wisdom to family members, but it better prepared them for a death they were more willing to accept.
"Death is to be accepted, it should be looked on as a task that is completed," MacIntyre said. "It is a time to complete the transmission of the past to the future."
Dr. William F. May of the School of Religous Studies at Indiana University said that in past cultures death was often looked on as a time of family reconciliation, when brothers and sisters who had grown apart could come together again and make peace with each other. It was also a time when dying parents could once again assume the role of teacher, which often helped to mend family rifts.
"I believe our own culture has helped to split people apart," May said, "which I think is one of the costs of the rootlessness we experience today."
Havard University's Dr. Thomas Schelling said that a "good" deathtoday is viewed by many Americans as a sudden death, with little or no time to prepare for it. Schelling said this view reflects at least it part the rootless and mobile lives led by a growing number of Americans.
"A rich life should include that part of living that is concerned with death," Dr. Schelling said. "The right to speak out at the time of death and have others listen is part of thatrich life."