H/T Rose, Richard Smith, one time editor of the BMJ, and the man who reported that the BMA’s alcohol consumption recommendations had been “plucked from the air”, has been criticised for saying that dying of cancer is the best death:
Buñuel was clear about how he didn’t want to die. “I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of dying alone in a hotel room, with my bags open and a shooting script on the night table. I must know whose fingers will close my eyes.”
“An even more horrible death,” he wrote, “is one that’s kept at bay by the miracles of modern medicine, a death that never ends. In the name of Hippocrates, doctors have invented the most exquisite form of torture ever known to man: survival.”
Buñuel saw how Franco died and found himself pitying a man he hated. Franco’s death in 1975 still stands for the most horrible medical death, a death that only doctors could devise. Organ after organ failed, and the doctors tried to compensate. As a medical student a year before graduation, I watched in horror. I think of the death as an incompetent carpenter trying to get a table level, sawing something of one leg, then the next, and eventually ending with the table on the floor.
He recommended cancer because it allowed time to reflect on one’s life, and put one’s affairs in order.
This is, I recognise, a romantic view of dying, but it is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky. But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.
I can see what he means, of course. I suppose I’m more in favour of a sudden death.
The death that I’ve thought about most has probably been the death of my uncle Francis, after whom I’m named. He was an RAF pilot whose Spitfire caught fire over the Mediterranean, forcing him to bail out. He was last seen getting into a little inflatable dinghy. He was never seen again. One day he was a strong young man of 22 years, and a few days or hours later he was dead. He probably had plenty of time to reflect on his life, but little chance to put his affairs in order. And he probably knew he was going to die. And that there would be nobody to close his eyes.
Needless to say, CRUK and co. were hissing and screeching about Smith’s recommendations:
Cancer researchers in Britain are outraged over an eminent doctor’s claim that their efforts to find a cure are misguided because the disease offered a better death than alternatives like organ failure and dementia.
Cancer Research UK chief clinician Peter Johnson said, in a statement on Thursday, that the billions spent annually on finding a cure was money well spent because cancer killed the young as well as the old and “the more we know about cancer, the more we can give people options”.
I somehow think that a lot more old people than young people get cancer. Several commenters here said as much.
But I always suspect that these healthist cancer researchers really believe that if we don’t drink, and don’t smoke, and get plenty of exercise, we have a good chance of living forever. I once came across a paper by Sir Richard Doll about the prospects for immortality, so clearly he’d devoted time to the idea. For them, longevity is everything. Every last minute counts. They are Buñuel’s “incompetent carpenters”. And they torture everybody.