4/14/2014--I tried to get the New York Times to publish the following letter to the editor, without success.
To the Editor:
In his column on healthcare debate last Sunday ("Health Care Without End"), Ross Douthat appeared to suggest that one driver of healthcare debate is the growing desire to postpone death. Douthat appeared to mean a kind of unnatural postponement of death because his point related to growing consumption of healthcare resources--a kind of life at all costs approach, even when there is no reasonable chance of cure. Then Douthat linked this greater investment in post-poning death to growing secularization in the culture. If I am not mistaken, the indirect suggestion was that religious believers, because they have an expectation of an afterlife, or some kind of meaningful resolution to life, can approach death in a calmer, more relaxed way than can we secularists, who, because we have nothing to hope for, must cling to life at all costs, thus screwing up healthcare policy. I wish Douthat were right about this. That would mean that religion is still healthy in this country. Unfortunately, in my experience, just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no believers in cancer wards. Most people deny the inevitable and their earstwhile religion has nothing to do with it.
I have seen a lot of this recently. Persons who claim to be religious believers, regular churchgoers and pillars of the believing community, face death without any obvious religious commitment. I am not suggesting that the only possible religious response to death is that we will all meet again in heaven. It would be just as much a religious response to hold that life is good and the universe is well-ordered and that my demise is part of that good plan. What I don't expect to see is the very clinging to life at all costs that Douthat presumably had in mind. That attitude, increasingly common, is rather juvenile. The philosopher Martin Heidegger once described a similar attitude as an unwillingness to get off the stage.