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Death: Current Perspectives by Edwin S. Shneidman, Ed.

In the 20th century there seems to have been an unremarked shift in prudery; whereas copulation has become more and more "mentionable," particularly in the Anglo-Saxon societies, death has become more and more "unmentionable" as a natural process.   I cannot recollect a novel or play of the last twenty years or so which has a "death-bed scene" in it, describing in any detail the death "from natural causes" of a major character; this topic was a set piece for most of the eminent Victorian and Edwardian writers, evoking their finest prose and their most elaborate technical effects to produce the greatest amount of pathos or edification.

One of the reasons, I imagine, for this plethora of death-bed scenes, apart from their intrinsic emotional and religious content, was that it was one of the relatively few experiences that an author could be fairly sure would have been shared by the vast majority of his readers.  Questioning my old acquaintances, I cannot find one over the age of sixty who did not witness the agony of at least one near relative; I do not think I know a single person under the age of thirty who has had a similar experience.

Before a twenty year old who arrives in the Emergency Room with a presumption of death, attached in the form of an ambulance driver's assessment, will be pronounced dead by a physician, very long listening to his heartbeat will occur, occasionally efforts at stimulation will be made, oxygen administered, and oftentimes stimulative medication given. Less time will elapse between initial detection of an inaudible heartbeat and nonpalpable pulse and the pronouncement of death if the person is forty years old, and still less if he is seventy.  As well as can be detected, there appeared to be no obvious difference between men and women in this regard, nor between white and Negro "patients."  Very old patients who are considered to be dead, on the basis of the ambulance driver's assessment, were seen to be put in an empty room to "wait" several moments before a physician arrived. When a young person is brought in as a possible Dead on Arrival, the ambulance driver tries to convey some more alarming sense to the arrival by turning the siren up very loud and continuing it after he has already stopped, so that by the time he has actually entered the wing, personnel, expecting "something special," act quickly and accordingly. When it is a younger person that the driver is delivering, his general manner is more frantic. The speed with which he wheels his stretcher in, and the degree of excitement in his voice as he describes his charge to the desk clerk, are generally more heightened than with the elderly "DOA." One can observe a direct relationship between the loudness and length of the siren alarm and the considered "social value" of the person being transported.

Developmental psychologists and educators tend to emphasize the young child's lack of conceptual ability.  He is not yet mentally equipped to understand death.  But the corollary too often is neglected: the young child tries to understand.


ISBN: 1559340118

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