Friday, July 27, 2007

Morbid - no, necessary

Nice piece by Bel Mooney in the Mail this morning on the upcoming ITV documentary which shows, on primetime television, the last moments of a life. There's been a lot of controversy about this programme - as there was a decade ago when the BBC showed a death on The Human Body. Like Bel, however, I'm absolutely in favour.

Of course if a 'real death' is shown disrespectfully, humorously or violently, we should condemn it. But actually, we see 'pretend death'shown in all these ways, many times a week on the media, and barely an eyebrow is raised. This showing of real death in a serious, reverent - and above all, honest - way is to me a huge step forward.

I saw my father die. He was 78 years old, and he died of terminal lung cancer in a hospital bed with me and my uncle at his side. It was an unbearably upsetting moment - but nevetheless I am glad I was there. I had not been there when my mother died and I had always felt somehow cheated at that. We need to witness the moment of death.

But surely we only need to witness when the dying person is close to us? Surely when they are a stranger, as is the case on the upcoming documentary, our interest is morbid and voyeuristic. Not at all. Death, like sex, is something we rarely see in person - yet it is one of the defining elements that makes us human. We will all die, will all lose loved ones to death. We all want to know - and arguably deserve to know - what it looks like.

Seeing my father die has not removed my fear of being dead, because I don't know what follows. But it has removed my fear of dying - and thus made me far more able to live fully. If the upcoming documentary does that for even a handful of its viewers, then it will be worthwhile.