The COMMODIFICATION OF DEATH
by Philip Pecorino after the work of Angela Karp and Ivan Illych.
Perspective of Political Sociology:
Death is not viewed as a biological fact but as a social phenomena, a social fact.
The social definition of death is according to time and place. Each society has given a definition to death, a meaning, a social meaning. In each society the way in which death is typically experienced and handled is its social meaning.
In modern industrial Western technological societies , death has become a commodity; something that can be bought and sold in the market place.
Death as a natural phenomena is death that is most common and expected even planned , produced, purchased and consumed. In the new millennia death has become a commodity that is consumed through carefully planned and socially demanded medical services.
Most people die of heart disease and then cancer in their 70's in a clinical setting such as a hospital or nursing home. This death is the LAST PURCHASE the last act the individual performs in a consumer oriented society and in the process the individual becomes an OBJECT. We live and die as consumers, clients, patients, calls, cadavers, transplant resources.
The "living dead" among us are those who are socio-economically "dead' and are so because they neither produce or consume the mainstream products and services. these are the : aged, addicted, prisoners, infirm, incompetent. They are seen as parasites, institutionalized and often are treated as if they have no basic human rights.
It was not always this way! A review of the images of death is in order.
Death was personal. It came from GOD. It was contained in each of us and when GOD ordained death would come forth. Its image was that of the skeleton. The skeletal man emerged and took over the living man. Death came forth. The causes were injury and infections which would cause the body to become infected and waste away. Death looked as a skeleton emerging through one's flesh in most cases.
DEATH WAS THE GREAT EQUALIZER. It was the "other" which we each carry at all times. Anyone could die at anytime ! DEATH would come according to GOD's will. The plagues would come and select those who would do die and that process was depicted as the dance of death: the dance macabre. e.g., the BLACK DEATH!
By the 17th Century Death is seen as NATURAL, as part of nature. It comes from nature. DEATH is part of nature. All that lives dies. When the time comes to die the natural thing to do is to die. There should be no resistance to what is natural . Death was seen as NATURAL INEVITABLE and IRRESISTIBLE
Therefore the task became to learn how to die, how to die naturally and without much pain and suffering.
The most popular book: ars moriendi "the Art of Dying"
The figure of death is the grim reaper a figure with a harvesting tool, a sickle, in order to reap the harvest of souls of the dead according to the appointed time which was indicated by the date book or hourglass held in the reaper's other hand.
The task was to learn how to cope with death. Medicine was to cure a person or to hasten their deaths as painlessly as possible. Hemlock and other herbs and chemicals would ease people into death and have them avoid needless pain and suffering and help them to resist the temptation to curse GOD due to their suffering and to join with the DEVIL to take away their pain only to suffer eternal damnation and suffering.
18th and 19th centuries
For the first time in human history death became socially conditioned. The image became that of the aging lecher. Death became CLASS SPECIFIC. There was a common expression:" The rich die old but the poor die young." Death would come to different social classes in different manners and at different times. The poor who worked the land, the mines , the factories would die younger of accidents, infections and diseases which the wealthy were not exposed to in their life routine. The wealthy would begin to think of something called "old age" and of living long enough to reach a point where they would not work any longer and go on living : they would "retire". Until this time to "retire" meant to go to bed to sleep for the night.
To live to be old meant avoiding the causes of death for so many of the working poor and when a wealthy person would get sick , there would be medical attention available. People began to expect that if one had wealth enough one could have a "natural death' which would be a death in one's own bed with doctors in assistance. this was a death that could be bought if one had enough money. It could be purchase through he purchase of a lifestyle and medical attention.
Longer life came to be valued for it provided for the further accumulation of wealth. The expectation of a long life became important for the success of capitalism because the wealthy needed to believe they would live long enough to see the return on their investments and the further growth of their enterprises. Had they not believed so they would take the profits from an enterprise and spend it rather than to reinvest most of it.
There comes a change in the idea of health and of sickness
People once said "I am sick" now they would start to say " I have a sickness."
Physicians began to specialize and become more effective in changing the course of death.
There developed the clinical attitude in which doctors come to treat illnesses and not the ill person. They specialize in the illnesses. They see their role as intervening in processes and keeping death away. They practice intervention, medication, medicine.
To die without the assistance of medical professional comes to be seen as unnatural and undesirable. People are no longer equal before death and that is thought to be an injustice. Become infected and whether you live or die depends on how wealthy you happen to be. This was seen as an injustice that needed to be changed.
20th Century: the demand for equality
Unions demand more for the working poor.
Unions want increased wages, better working conditions, women and children out of the workplace, and health care.
They want a "natural death' , a change in the social status of the workers to achieve the possibility of enjoying life and having the delayed natural death in later life. Therefore as a result of contract agreements there arose the need for :
The right to die a timely death has become the right to buy a timely death which has become the right to buy or receive medical attention when needed.
The lower working class want to consume death , to consume a timely death. They do not want to change the conditions which produce death. The politically radical demand which is considered morally just is the demand to buy medical services. It is misplaced. What the working class appears to want is their right to be EQUAL BEFORE DEATH!!
National Health Insurance Program is thought to be a means to provide for that equality. Welfare, Medicare, Medicaid programs are thought to be the liberal solution to the demand for equality and justice in the face of death. People appear to want the RIGHT TO HAVE EQUAL OPPORTUNITY for a TIMELY DEATH which has become a DEATH UNDER INTENSIVE CARE!!!
The demand for equality is achieved as DEATH UNDER INTENSIVE CARE
75 years of age + - 2 of heart disease or cancer in a hospital or nursing facility
The image of death that frightens us: the neomort!
How to avoid dying this way. How to live longer and healthier lives. Look at what produces the way of death. Look at the vested interests in maintaining that way of death.
Network of institutions maintain the status quo
We persist in lifestyles producing our style of dying! We consume and we make our installment payments each day on a style of death most of us will produce. We eat wrong, we do not exercise, we abuse our bodies , we pollute the environment, poison our air and water and food. We die from heart disease and cancer. We look for replacement parts, transplants and cloned animal parts for human use. People appear to desire maintaining the status quo as well. They find it difficult , if not impossible, to change. They continue to pursue lifestyles that produce their death styles.
What produces the deaths we experience?
foods we eat
drinks we consume
the chemicals in the food and drinks
chemicals in the air , water and environment
lack of exercise
One woman told she had cancer of the lungs and emphysema quick smoking. She resumed again after three weeks and when asked how she could be doing that , replied:
"I'd rather die smoking these things than to try to learn how to live without them"
She speaks for most Americans who would rather go on living as we do and die they way we die than attempt to learn how to live another life style.
Seven factors associated with longer healthier lives:
These practices improve the odds of a longer and healthier life. These practices would not cost money. It would save a person money to observe these seven practices. Will people do them?
Are people willing to change their way of life in order to change the way they die? NOT LIKELY.
Most people would rather go on living as they do and die they way they expect that they will, the most common death: of heart disease or cancer in their 70's in a hospital or nursing home after having been in intensive care and had MRI, defibulation, etc....
The ancient biblical warning is fulfilled again!
Live by the sword, die by the sword. Those that live by Burger King shall die by Burger King. Those that live the way of the Pepsi generation lives, shall die as the Pepsi generation dies. They'll have the real thing, uh ha!.
Have it your way!
You asked for it.
You paid for it.
You'll get it.
You deserve it.
You have it coming to you. A NATURAL DEATH !!!