Good Death

hope and despair

One of my current projects focuses on medically mediated forms of dying, with a particular interest in current discussions and debates around voluntary euthanasia. My project will be focused principally on the themes of hope and despair. See details of this project, 'Hugging Death, Anticipating Suicide', via the 'projects and publications' link above.

As I was reading today, however, I came across the following from V. Sleight and her article 'Hope and Despair' published in the J. of the Royal Society of Medicine (97, 2004, p. 354):

"A hope remains that we may all share--that when each of us reaches the final transition between life and death, the wretchedness of despair is superseded by the hope that one has the legal right to a Good Death, an easy death that is facilitated at the time of one's own choice."

Now, I will argue that such reasoning of the article is significantly flawed. At very least, I will suggest that the type of hope assumed by this author, among others, is one that might be categorised as an objective hope--where hope is a commodity, given and/or received. It might be exemplified by the phrase that 'I hope X will happen'. For the author of the article, one might fill in the blank with, 'I hope that a Good Death will happen'. This hope is further bolstered by a claim that secures the individual's right for such a commodity. 

This type of hope might be contrasted with other forms of hope, such as an equally problematic category, the abstract hope. In this, one might express hope as a hoping for hope. Hope is an abstract, existential category that is decontextualised--it is an expression that highlights the existential struggle to discover or to experience one possibility among other possibilities. Once again, this is a hoping for the idealised hope, in whatever generalised and/or universal form it might take.

In the above typologies, hope becomes an object that is either given/received or contemplated. But there is an alternative type of hope; one that is not objectified. That is, there are those that have considered hope ontologically. Gabriel Marcel, for example, has suggested as much. For Marcel, hope is grounded in an understanding of human being as relational. There is a subjectivity to hope, which is embodied, performed, and lived into. But this is a simplistic introduction to Marcel's metaphysics of hope... yet to say more is to move beyond my early readings and struggle to discern the typologies of hope at play.

Nevertheless, this project is proving to be one that is most stimulating and intellectually challenging. Good stuff all around!