In late January, I wrote this essay for a Pro-Life symposium that it seems never materialized. In it, I included this claim:
The pro-life position is fundamentally about freeing Death to do its work in its own way, in its own time. When it is free to work on its own, Death is unwittingly life’s greatest ally, for it confronts us with the necessary demands of an embodied existence. As such, it will be the last bastion of the pro-life position: only when we can choose to make ourselves how we want will we be able to finally escape its clutches. “Freedom” will triumph over necessity, and immortality will prevail over mortality.
Now comes this essay by Eric Cohen from the always relevant and increasingly important New Atlantis: “In Whose Image Shall we Die?” Cohen explores the connection between death and life, between mortality and natality and underscores the relationship between the two:
We readily ignore death, making procreation seem less urgent to men and women who think there will always be more time; and we desperately evade death, making procreation seem less important than sustaining the healthy self into the indefinite future. A death-denying civilization is also, it seems, a child-denying civilization.
He goes on to state, “Whatever one thinks about any particular bioethical issue, the problem of living well with death is integral to them all, even those that seem to center more on natality than mortality.”
Cohen’s essay raises the important issue of whether the “never surrender” to death attitude ultimately undercuts the human dignity of dying well, as Jacob died well. The subtle irony of the modern era is that medical procedures that have allowed people to stave off death have also resulted in a movement to choose death when we want it–euthanasia. The difficult tension between accepting one’s impending death nobly, and accepting the best of modern medicine to keep someone “alive” came up in our discussion about my essay. It is an intractable tension, but one that can only be felt if people are aware of the importance of dying well. Cohen’s piece is an important step in raising that awareness.