Is There a Right Way to Die? The Lisa Boncheck Adams controversy continues.

As a life insurance salesman, a key part of my job is to help my clients deal with their own mortality. In this capacity I pay attention to debates and discussions about that topic.

Here are highlights of the controversy concerning Lisa Boncheck Adams. Please take a moment and and review the sources. What is your opinion: do you think there is a right way to die?

Lisa Boncheck Adams speaks out

Lisa Bonchek Adams is, to me, a brave warrior. She is a wife and mother who has been combatting breast cancer for six years. She chronicles her story on her blog so that others among us who are facing similar medical battles can draw from her strength.

Here is how she summarizes her mission:

This website has come full-circle. More than six years ago I heard the words, “You have cancer” for the first time.

I started writing about my experiences as a wife and young mother of 3 with breast cancer. I began by posting them on my Facebook page. Soon my friends were asking how their own friends and relatives could read my words. I was writing about the darker, richer emotions I was feeling — aimlessness, fear, despair — but also the dogged commitment to always be strong with an enthusiasm for life.

I wrote about death, life, family, sadness, joy and sorrow. I thought it would only appeal to people with cancer, but I was wrong. Instead, the appeal has been far more universal. I receive emails from people who not only have had cancer themselves, but also those with family members who have had it. I hear from people who have experience with other illnesses, and also those who just want to know more about what it is like to confront mortality at an early age. The far-reaching emotional impact of illness affects many people, and they connect with my work.

Bill Keller comments

Bill Keller is an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times. He recently published a critical opinion of Lisa’s efforts. He thinks some people might get carried away by her “war”.

Here is a summary of his point of view:

Her digital presence is no doubt a comfort to many of her followers. On the other hand, as cancer experts I consulted pointed out, Adams is the standard-bearer for an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes, and that, implicitly, seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures.

Steven Goodman, an associate dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, said he cringes at the combat metaphor, because it suggests that those who choose not to spend their final days in battle, using every weapon in the high-tech medical arsenal, lack character or willpower.

“I’m the last person to second-guess what she did,” Goodman told me, after perusing Adams’s blog. “I’m sure it has brought meaning, a deserved sense of accomplishment. But it shouldn’t be unduly praised. Equal praise is due to those who accept an inevitable fate with grace and courage.”

Bess Lovejoy responds

Bess Lovejoy is writer from Brooklyn. She published a response to Keller in Her point is that death is a taboo topic in our culture, and that people like Lisa help us deal with it.

Here is her position:

That’s why we actually need more people like Lisa Adams. With a growing elderly population (the share of the total U.S. population 65 and older tripled over the past century) and advances in medical treatment that prolong life for disease sufferers, more and more of us are facing head-on confrontations with mortality even before our own time comes. According to a November report from the Pew Research Center, 47 percent of adults say they have had a friend or relative facing a terminal illness or in a coma within the past five years. But it often seems that we’re more confused than ever about how to prepare for and process death, especially since many Americans now lack the religious scripts that once supplied answers for death and illness-related questions. The same Pew study found that more than a quarter of U.S. adults have given little to no thought about what kind of medical care they want at the end of life, even though that care frequently leaves family members in an emotional and financial morass.

­As the most ancient philosophers and religious authorities have told us, disease, pain, and death are inevitabilities of the human condition. Frank, honest discussions about how to grapple with the darkest of realities—the kind Lisa Adams shares—are helpful for people who are figuring out how to cope and for people who will eventually have to—which is pretty much all of us. We need models for how to talk openly with doctors, family, and friends about the worst of the worst ways that human bodies can go wrong. By tweeting and blogging about the details of her pain, Adams helps to destigmatize such discussions.

Many of us, myself included, have been schooled in an emotional style that prefers to stay away from the dark, icky facts of human life. And talking about sickness and death is undeniably difficult. But it’s reality, and those who dare to do it shouldn’t be shamed or silenced. The only way through this quagmire, this essential knot at the core of what it means to be human, this worm at the banquet, is through public and private conversations about our mortality—messy conversations that may make people like Bill Keller uncomfortable. I hope Lisa Adams keeps blogging, tweeting, and making noise as long as she possibly can.

What do you think?



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