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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Death and Dying: A Reader by Thomas A. Shannon (Readings in Bioethics: Sheed and Ward, Rowman & Littlefield) (Hardcover) Ten readings represent current and historical legal, ethical, and medical thinking on issues like the definition of death, prolonging life, tube feeding, palliative care, and physician-assisted suicide. Contributors include philosophers, psychiatrists, and medical doctors.

Excerpt: Since its introduction over a decade ago, the field of bioethics has grown exponentially. Not only has it become established as an academic discipline with journals and professional societies, it is covered regularly in the media and affects people everyday around the globe.

One important development in the field has been the informal division into clinical and institutional bioethics. Institutional bioethics has to do with the ethical dilemmas associated with the various institutions, the majority of which are providers of health care services. Delivery of health care, allocations of health care payments, mergers, closing or restricting services of certain departments or even of hospitals or clinics themselves are systemic questions involving a broad range of ethical agenda. On the clinical side, the bevy of usual suspects of ethical dilemmas is increasing in complexity as technology moves forward, new interventions are proposed, and fantasies become realities. Few, for example, thought that human cloning would become a serious clinical, public policy, and institutional debate in 2002.

One of the major consequences of this quantitative and qualitative debate is that providing resources for introductory or even specialized courses is be-coming much more difficult. This is particularly difficult in the case of editing an anthology to compliment a text that provides an analysis of the core ethical issues. There is simply too much material to put into a single anthology that is reasonable in price and convenient in size.

This series is an attempt to resolve the problem of a cumbersome and ex-pensive anthology by providing a set of four manageable and accessible readers on specific topics. Thus each reader in the series will be on a specific topicreproductive technologies, genetic technologies, death and dying, and health care policyand will be about two hundred pages in length. This is to provide professors with flexibility in designing their courses. Ideally, professors will use a core text to analyze the primary ethical issues in bioethics and will use the readers in this series to examine specific problems and cases, thus providing flexibility in designing syllabi as well as providing variety in presenting the course.

The goal of this series is twofold: first, to provide a set of readers on thematic topics for introductory or survey courses in bioethics or for courses with a particular theme or time limitation. In addition to a core text that provides the appropriate level of analytical framework, the readers in this series provide specific analysis of a set of issues that meets the professor's needs and interests. Second, each of the readers in this series is designed with the student in mind and aims to present seminal articles and case studies that help students focus more thoroughly and effectively on specific topics that flesh out the ethical issues at the core of bioethics.

Death And Afterlife In A Tamil Village: Discourses Of Low Caste Women by Nathalie Peyer (Perfromanzen/Performances: Interkulturelle Studien Zu Ritual, Spiel Und Theate ... cultural Studies on Ritual, Play and Theatre: Lit Verlag) Studies of death rituals and of beliefs about the afterlife in India have mainly been carried out from the perspective of male members of high castes following the Sanskritic tradition. Contrary to this, the present study focuses on rural low caste women's discourses about death and afterlife. Their talk about death and afterlife is analyzed in a wider social context. This reveals that death is symbolically related to and meaningful for the social order, the recreation of life, and the status of women. It is important to control death as it is considered a vulnerable state of transition that is constantly endangered by impurity and by attacks of malign ghosts.

Death plays an important role in every aspect of society, be it caste, religion or everyday life. As Bloch and Parry have established, death rituals actively create the social order and cultural values Peyer interprets the villagers' discourse about death in order to discuss its implications with regard to the cultural values in their community. 

She points out that celebrating death rituals provides an opportunity to achieve a new status in the society of the living. Death rituals form a social event in which family and political alliances are created and prestige gained. A grandiose funeral is a celebration of the deceased's long and fulfilled life. Viramma, while talking about the music they played at her mother's funeral, stated: "... the point is to finish life cheerfully." Randeria, in her article about Dalits in Gujarat, found that: "... mortuary feasts are mainly for the production of the social order, besides being an occasion to honor their parents. It is not in the first instance a festival for the deceased's transformation into an ancestor." The Dalits of Mukkurtamr, likewise, do not emphasize these transformation rituals, which are very important in the death ceremonies of Brahmins or other sanskritized castes.'

To die in old age, at home, after a fulfilled life is considered to be good: the dying person has time to prepare, and the moment of death seems to be controlled. People who die in this way are able to create prosperity and fertility and will be transformed into ancestors living in heaven with God, probably later to be reborn as the children of the same family. I have thus also argued that death can be seen as a source of life and of the continuation of the social order.

Death also reflects society's ambivalent attitude towards women. Through death, women become uncontrollable. Women who are not controlled by men become dangerous, especially if they died violently, like the Mohinis described in the chapter about ghosts. The most striking example is Cinki, the lowest imaginable being: a Kuravar, lower even than the Parayars, a woman and even called a prostitute, yet her grave was dug by a Kajjar. Her case embodies an extreme contradiction in the social order: from a powerless low caste girl, she turned into a powerful goddess as a result of her violent death. 

Bloch and Parry claim that the association between women and impurity is not very important for Hindu death rituals, although it is widespread in many other societies. I would argue, on the contrary, that impurity in death (tittu) and the fear (payam) of it are ideologically imposed on women, who are considered to be weak and therefore under threaten of attack by ghosts as a result of their fear. This fear (payam) of impurity is also connected with the decomposition of the corpse, which "[...] is common to a wide range of different kinds of society".

Throughout the funeral ceremonies, a wish for control is expressed, which is reflected in the emphasis on social relations and the exchange of gifts. In addition, the need to calm down the deceased's avi and to prevent possession by a ghost seem to be critical to maintaining the social order. Any expression of fear or sorrow is considered a sign of weakness, a loss of control. These emotions are a woman's task. Women are therefore in constant danger of putting the social order at risk. Excluding women from the ceremonies at a funeral is an attempt to gain control over this state of transition.

A good death is said to be a controlled parting from this world, as opposed to a bad death, which is not controllable and is therefore a threat to the social order. People who have died a bad death do not become ancestors, nor do they have the power to regenerate: instead, they become uncontrollable ghosts. However, there is also a certain ambivalence regarding a good death: Peyer was told that the deceased should go happily, and that if a good death was not treated appropriately, if all the correct ceremonies were not performed, even the spirit emerging from a good death could potentially

become a malevolent ghost. Lakshmi said that people light a lamp so that the spirit will rest in peace. Viramma lit an oil lamp for her mother for sixteen days after the burial because "If you don't do that, the soul will become a demon instead of being reincarnated."

Or, as Tata said: All this is done, so that only good and no evil comes to the house.

Therefore, despite all attempts, it is impossible to have control over death. Peyer agrees with Bloch and Parry that: "In almost every instance there remains a place for the suspicion that the victory over discontinuity which is acted out in the mortuary rites is an illusory one, and that death has not been successfully harnessed to the cycle of regeneration." Despite women's exclusion from the ceremonies at the burial ground, there is still a need to cool down the overheated state of tittu. This is because it is believed that the deceased can become a powerful but dual-natured god-like ancestor. Since dead people are not under people's control, they remain powerful, and should not be ignored. They are to be worshipped and their rules are to be respected.

Peyers focus on low castes and women's perspective reveal questions for further research:

The low caste villagers' discourse suggest that the prevention of attack by ghosts is a more important part of death rituals than in the Brahmin death rituals. Investigation of, and comparison with, other castes, regions or even urban settings would be another fruitful avenue of research.

The women's perspective has shown how a woman's status within the community is reflected in the discourse on death. Perhaps future research on women and death will broaden the discussion on the association between emotions, women and impurity in death.

Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion by Alan Segal (Doubleday) A magisterial work of social history, Life After Death illuminates the many different ways ancient civilizations grappled with the question of what exactly happens to us after we die.

In a masterful exploration of how Western civilizations have defined the afterlife, Alan F. Segal weaves together biblical and literary scholarship, sociology, history, and philosophy. A renowned scholar, Segal examines the maps of the afterlife found in Western religious texts and reveals not only what various cultures believed but how their notions reflected their societies realities and ideals, and why those beliefs changed over time. He maintains that the afterlife is the mirror in which a society arranges its concept of the self. The composition process for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam begins in grief and ends in the victory of the self over death.

Arguing that in every religious tradition the afterlife represents the ultimate reward for the good, Segal combines historical and anthropological data with insights gleaned from religious and philosophical writings to explain the following mysteries: why the Egyptians insisted on an afterlife in heaven, while the body was embalmed in a tomb on earth; why the Babylonians viewed the dead as living in underground prisons; why the Hebrews remained silent about life after death during the period of the First Temple, yet embraced it in the Second Temple period (534 B.C.E. 70 C.E.); and why Christianity placed the afterlife in the center of its belief system. He discusses the inner dialogues and arguments within Judaism and Christianity, showing the underlying dynamic behind them, as well as the ideas that mark the differences between the two religions. In a thoughtful examination of the influence of biblical views of heaven and martyrdom on Islamic beliefs, he offers a fascinating perspective on the current troubling rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

In tracing the organic, historical relationships between sacred texts and communities of belief and comparing the visions of life after death that have emerged throughout history, Segal sheds a bright, revealing light on the intimate connections between notions of the afterlife, the societies that produced them, and the individuals search for the ultimate meaning of life on earth.

From Publishers Weekly: This monumental study combines history, geography, mythology, archaeology and anthropology with biblical text analysis. Segal, a professor of Jewish studies at Barnard College, spent 10 years on this project, but the erudition he displays is undoubtedly the result of a lifetime of scholarship. In every culture, people ask the same fundamental questions about their existence, including "what happens after we die?" Although Segal maintains that answers to that question lie "beyond confirmation or disconfirmation in the scientific sense," he offers a comprehensive overview of how the afterlife is understood in the three main Western religions. He thoroughly examines early influences from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Canaan, Iran and Greece, then analyzes Jewish views as expressed in the first and second temple periods, the book of Daniel, the Dead Sea scrolls and writings from and about New Testament times, the early rabbis, mysticism and fundamentalism. For Christianity, systematic attention is given to Paul, the Gospels, the pseudepigraphic literature and the Church Fathers. Segal also scans Muslim beliefs as they appear in the Qur'an and the writings of Shi'a mystics and modern fundamentalists. The introductory and concluding chapters provide the essence of the presentation, enlivened by quotations from Shakespeare. Impatient readers may begin with these two chapters as a guide to determining which other sections of the book warrant further scrutiny. Careful readers, however, will take the trouble and the time to pore over this impressive contribution to our understanding of human belief and behavior. Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

VISITATIONS FROM THE AFTERLIFE: True Stories of Love and Healing compiled by Lee Lawson.

A VISITATION---a spontaneous encounter with a loved one who has passed on into the next world-is a life-altering and transformative experience. Sometimes a loved one returns to say "Good-bye, for now," or to bring a vision of the afterlife or a lesson for this life. Often the spirit brings the blessed peace of healing to a grieving loved one-someone who has lost a parent, a partner, or a child. However they come, these extraordinary moments of reunion leave the living blessed and forever changed.

According to a recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll, almost 70 million Americans believe that it is possible to communicate with the dead, and millions of people the world over have experienced a visitation. When people feel that it is safe to speak openly of these encounters, they tell stories that in the past have been kept close, "secretly whispered from parent to child, from friend to friend, from heart to heart."

Since early childhood, Lee Lawson has herself had many visitations, treasured experiences that have profoundly shaped and molded her life. VISITATIONS FROM THE AFTERLIFE is a passionate invitation to explore and be blessed by this remarkable collection of visitation stories from around the world.

Whether or not you have experienced a visitation, you will find these accounts compelling evidence of the afterlife, revealing to us that life and love continue into eternity. This beautiful collection of stories brings hope and peace to the heart, helping us to realize that we live on after death, and that one-day we will be reunited with the ones we love.

LEE LAWSON is an artist whose work is internationally exhibited and collected. She lives in San Luis Obispo County, California.


A Memoir of Living and Dying

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


$22.00, hardcover, 286 pages


With the publication of On Death and Dying (Macmillan 1969), psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. became an internationally renowned authority on the terminally ill. Her discovery that dying patients undergo five distinct emotional phases-denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance--revolutionized the way the medical world looked at the experience of death. Through her books, lectures, and a medical practice spanning more than forty years, Dr. Kubler-Ross has dedicated her life to comforting the dying and helping families cope with grief and loss.

Now seventy, and facing her own death, Dr. Kubler-Ross has written a personal memoir. THE WHEEL OF LIFE: A Memoir of Living and Dying offers moving portrait of Dr. Kubler-Ross’s life and career. It is a beguiling story of her own intellectual and spiritual transformation. Decades of working with the dying and with people who have undergone near-death experiences have convinced her that death is not the end, but merely a new stage of life. In THE WHEEL OF LIFE, Dr. Kubler-Ross represents her own personal spiritual journey in vivid, and often startling detail. I was intrigued by Dr. Kubler-Ross’s after-death experiences so frankly revealed. Her message of love and hope was inspiring and challenging to the business as usual way life, death and disease are characterized in our social institutions.

Born in Zurich, Switzerland, Elisabeth Kubler was the oldest daughter of a set of triplets. Although she weighed only two pounds at birth, she began asserting herself early on in life and grew to be an intellectually curious, strong-willed and defiant young woman. Determined to be a doctor, she refused to take a job as a secretary in her father’s office, and left her family to work as a maid so that she could earn money for medical school. Idealistic and restless, she traveled throughout Europe after World War II with the International Voluntary Service for Peace, helping survivors of war-torn cities. The experience strengthened her resolve to help others.

It was in the U.S. that Dr. Kubler-Ross initiated her pioneering work with the terminally ill. Appalled by the isolation that hospitals imposed on dying patients, Dr. Kubler-Ross began to reach out to them. She became a crusader calling for more compassionate treatment of the terminally ill, and for an end to the fear with which the medical establishment treated them. Listening to what the dying had to say, she soon realized that she and her colleagues had a great deal to learn from people facing the end of their lives.

Inevitably, Dr. Kubler-Ross’s work with the dying led her to question the meaning of death itself. How did so many of her patients know intuitively when they were going to die? Why did so many people who had faced near-death experiences report the same feelings of inner peace?

Research with nearly 20,000 people who had "returned" after dying confirmed for Dr. Kubler-Ross that there is life after death. She believes that death occurs in four phases. In phase one, people float outside of their bodies and are aware of what is happening "below" them. In phase two, people report meeting guardian angels or guides, who bring them into the presence of friends and loved ones who have already died. In phase three, people travel through a tunnel and are enveloped by a warm, radiating light. There they discover tranquillity and feelings of unconditional love. Finally, in phase four, people are in the presence of a Higher Source, and find themselves reviewing all the events in their lives.

Dr. Kubler-Ross’s work with the dying provoked controversy throughout her life. In the early l990s, an attempt to turn her Virginia farm into a hospice for AIDS babies met with fierce resistance, and ended when her beloved farmhouse was burned down. Surviving this, and other personal tragedies with grace, Dr. Kubler-Ross has developed a life-affirming philosophy that continues to nurture those around her. From her home in Arizona, where she has been forced to retire after a series of strokes, she writes: "I suppose it is appropriate that after counseling so many dying patients I should have time to reflect on death now that the one I face is my own. There is poetry to it, a slight drama, like a pause in a courtroom drama where the defendant is given the chance to confess. Fortunately, I have nothing new to admit. My death will come to me as a warm embrace. As I have long said, life in a physical body is a very short span of one’s total existence."

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. is a psychiatrist and author of the groundbreaking On Death and Dying and many other books which have earned her recognition as the bestloved and most respected authority on the subject.


A Portrait of Life in the Shadow of Death

by Lee Modjeska


$14.95, paper, 134 pages


Less than two years after cancer specialists told Lee Modjeska he had only a few years to live he earned his black belt in the tai kwon do—at age sixty. Distinguished attorney, teacher, scholar, husband, and father . . . and suddenly cancer patient, Modjeska shares his journey through radiation treatments, pain medications, and funeral planning, but along the way he invites us to celebrate a growing internal harmony, an emerging spirituality, a deepening love and appreciation for each moment of life. A work that helps integrate living with life threatening disease.

Books from long-term survivors of cancer have been scarce. Books as human, wise, dignified, and helpful as Lee Modjeska’s are rare and useful.


How Great Beings Die

Death Stories of Tibetan, Hindu & Zen Masters

compiled and edited by Sushila Blackman


$12.95, paper, 160 pages, notes


GRACEFUL EXITS contains the death stories of 108 Zen, Tibetan, and Hindu spiritual masters. "When she started work on the book two years ago, my wife, Sushila Blackman, the editor and compiler, had no idea how important it was going to become in her life. Recently she learned that she had cancer and six months to live, and the book took on a special meaning for her. She died peacefully and consciously last November, just a few days after completing an Afterword she wrote for the book describing her own transition experiences."

This book offers hope to all who want to face their death with the full dignity of their living. It teaches a profound lesson. As we live so we die.

The book’s significance emphasized by the observation from the Dalai Lama: "Awareness of death is the very bedrock of the entire [spiritual] path. Until you have developed this awareness, all other practices are obstructed."

In a society in which the fact of death is obscured by fear and denial, we are in dire need of teachers who can show us how to leave this world with grace and dignity, and to place death in its true perspective. This book offers such guidance in the form of 108 stories recounting the ways in which Hindu, Tibetan, and Zen Buddhist masters, both ancient and modern, have confronted their own deaths. By directly presenting the grace, clarity, and even humor with which great spiritual teachers have met the end of their days, it provides inspiration and nourishment to anyone truly concerned with the fundamental issues of life and death.

"When people would ask why I was compiling the book, I couldn’t answer.… The underlying reason, about which I had no conscious awareness, only became clear several weeks ago. I felt some chest pain and walked into our nearby emergency room thinking I was having a mild heart attack. Five hours later I walked out, having learned I had advanced lung cancer .… The window on my life had become very short. I had, unknowingly, been busy compiling a training manual for my own "graceful exit!"

Sushila Blackman practiced Vipassana and Siddha meditation for more than twenty years, and studied Western modes of therapy at Esalen and with Ida Rolf. She also edited, designed, or produced more than a hundred books on Eastern philosophy and mind-body practices.


How to Live This Year as If It were Your Last

by Stephen Levine

Bell Tower

$20.00, hardcover, 175 pages


Are you ready to die? If you died tomorrow, would you have any regrets? You probably have more than a year to live, but will you ever be ready to die? In his remarkable new book, A YEAR TO LIVE, Stephen Levine, best-selling author and leading figure in the field of death and dying, shows us what it means to truly enjoy life by preparing to accept the inevitable.

Levine lived a year of his life as if it were his last. A YEAR TO LIVE is the result of that experience. "This book is intended to offer a healing process that allows a gradual completion of all that lies behind and a clear-eyed entrance into whatever may lie ahead," explains Levine. A YEAR TO LIVE is a celebration of life that can only be achieved by confronting what it is like to die.

"So many people identify with fear, of course. It’s because it is a basic, almost essential tenet of life. It’s ironic. If you’re walking through the afterworld and a three headed tiger jumps out at you and you jump back what that means is that even dying does not overcome the fear of death. It is so essential that according to those who know, it even continues into the next realms. In the separation into form, perhaps that homesickness takes on the form of fear of death."

Most people are just trying to get fully born their whole lives and for some they get born before they die and sometimes they don’t .If you are with someone who’s dying. it’s going to trigger your fear of death. In your work with someone else, always work on yourself. The work you’ve done on yourself, to be able to soften around pain, be open to heavy, affective emotional states, will be there and available to the person you are serving. Through this book one become aware of conscious living and conscious dying. By talking about your relationship with death you learn the fuller values of life. How to process grief for people who have lost loved ones, or face a parent’s death is discussed. How to bring people home to die and manage the pain. There are guided meditations, soft belly (accepting through your body difficult emotions) and forgiveness exercises. The dying meditation is to open up to our truer empathy with the dying and our own dying. Information on what it’s like to die, what might be coming afterwards, from reports of people who have been resuscitated. It’s a lot about healing and opening to dying.

It’s a process of listening to yourself so you can listen to the other. By being present and really trusting one’s intuition about how to support someone who is dying. In a kindness and real clarity and mindfulness. Listening to what they say they need, even though they themselves may not be aware of it.

The best-selling author of Who Dies? and Healing into Life and Death, Levine is a poet and teacher whose meditations and healing techniques have found widespread application over the last twenty years.


A Guide to the Emotional Care of the Dying

by Christine Longaker


$23.95, hardcover, 262 pages, notes, bibliography, index


In the two decades since her husband’s death at the age of twenty-five from leukemia, Christine Longaker has devoted her life to easing the pain and suffering of the dying. As a pioneer in the hospice care movement (which is based on the principle of caring for the dying patient as a whole person and not just a disease) Longaker has helped hundreds of people meet death with calm and grace. And as a leader in the Tibetan Buddhist organization Rigpa, she has imparted the rich Tibetan Buddhist teachings on death and dying to the many terminally ill patients, caregivers, and friends and family of the dying she has met in her work.

In this book, Longaker has combined her firsthand experience of caregiving and death with the timeless wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism to produce FACING DEATH AND FINDING HOPE. Arriving in a year when the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on the legality of physician-assisted suicide and large portions of the population continue to be felled by terminal illnesses, including AIDS and cancer, FACING DEATH AND FINDING HOPE is a useful handbook for anyone touched by caregiving, death or bereavement

"Whether we consider ourselves atheists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists," writes Longaker in her prologue, "whether we believe in rebirth or not, what is most important is that we develop a ‘good heart’...Developing such a good heart throughout life enables us to heal our relationships with others, bring peace into this troubled world, and meet death without fear." For those prepared to approach the tasks of living and dying as part of a continuum, a spiritual journey if you will, Longaker argues that the teachings and practices of Tibetan Buddhism provide perhaps the best road map. To that end, she has formulated "The Four Tasks of Living and Dying" and now presents this system to Western readers for the first time.

Drawing on years of personal experience as well as the seminars she has given around world on death and dying, Longaker explains each of the following essential processes:

Understanding and Transforming Suffering; Making a Connection, Healing Relationships and Letting Go; Preparing Spiritually for Death; and Finding Meaning in Life. Included in this discussion is material such as: meditations and other spiritual practices both the dying and caregivers of the dying can employ regularly; a frank assessment of what the dying most need and the literal and metaphysical steps they can take to satisfy those needs; and a reminder to caregivers that helping to ease the pain and suffering of others can also enable them to achieve growth and healing in their own lives; and responses to the most commonly asked but most difficult to answer questions surrounding dying.

FACING DEATH AND FINDING HOPE also devotes a section to "Advice for Caregivers, Parents and Survivors." Longaker offers words of comfort as well as coping strategies for situations for which there can be little or no preparation: sudden death, suicide, the loss of a child the side effects of grief’ and the emotional strain of caregiving.

Every one of us will face many deaths in our lifetimes, including those of loved ones, and eventually we will confront the challenge of our own passing. In her work with the dying and bereaved, Christine Longaker has discovered "as have so many other professionals and volunteer caregivers, that some of the traditional Buddhist practices can be readily used by non-Buddhists as well, with remarkable results." Not interested in imposing her spiritual views on anyone, Longaker instead offers her book as a guidebook for those genuinely interested in examining their lives and the lives of those around them suffering or in pain.

Written with great understanding and grace, FACING DEATH AND FINDING HOPE is likely to become a classic in the literature on death and dying. For Longaker, it represents yet another stage in the ongoing and very personal project that is her life’s work: "Helping others learn a new and hopeful way to prepare for death—and witnessing their courage in applying what they have learned to lifer gives my husband’s suffering, and mine, a greater meaning."

CHRISTINE LONGAKER helped establish the Hospice of Santa Cruz County and the Rigpa Fellowship in the United States. Currently she is developing, with Sogyal Rinpoche, the Spiritual Care for Living and Dying Program.


Spiritual and Medical Perspectives on Euthanasia and Mortality

by M. Scott Peck

Harmony Books

$23.00, hardcover, 242 pages, index


"Although the man gives me the shivers, I suppose I must credit Dr. Kevorkian more than any other individual for the genesis of this book. I have been surprised by the number of people who admire him. I have been even more surprised by the larger number who feel no affection for him but deeply approve of what he has been doing in assisting the suicides of those who are ill. Most of all, I have been surprised by the huge number of Americans who do not find Dr. Kevorkian’s work particularly objectionable. The euthanasia debate in many quarters has seemed to me strangely passionless. It is this passionlessness --this vast. tacit approval of euthanasia-that has alarmed me."

Euthanasia must become the subject of a great and completely open debate, one that Peck has masterfully and engagingly begun. In this important book, in which he reveals much of his own psyche and experience, Peck stands firmly on biblical traditions, directing us to keep in view the holy significance of life.

The best-selling author of The Road Less Traveled has written an era defining book on euthanasia that—by changing the way we perceive death and its importance to life—should spark the fuller public discussion about this uncertain issue. As a physician, psychiatrist, and theologian, M. Scott Peck is uniquely suited to address the many complex issues and paradoxes that have resulted from medicine’s technical ability to perpetuate the mechanisms of life—often without preserving life’s essence.

Without simplifying the issues in DENIAL OF THE SOUL, Dr. Peck voices his alarm over the public’s support for physician-assisted suicide and untimely acts of euthanasia, a support that has yet to undergo an exploration of the moral, ethical, psychological, and spiritual implications of "euthanasia on demand."

The Euthanasia Society of America defines euthanasia as the "termination of human life by painless means for the purpose of ending severe physical suffering." However, in DENIAL OF THE SOUL, Peck presents compelling reasons to show why this definition is grossly inadequate—it does not distinguish, for instance, between whether the suffering is temporary or chronic, treatable or untreatable, or truly physical as opposed to emotional.

Dying does not have to be painful. medicine has many ways to control pain to maximize comfort right to the very end.

We have the ability to take our own lives, but we may not reserve the right to do so. Our preoccupation with the body denies the presence of the soul and of God as a participant in our lives. In this monumental work, Peck contends that "through the act of suicide one sets the timing of one’s death without reference to the Life-Giver. It is a denial of God and God’s relationship with the soul."

We can learn from dying a natural death. In addition to the spiritual loss suffered by untimely acts of euthanasia, psychological costs are just as severe. DENIAL OF THE SOUL argues that we are obstructing the opportunity for the greatest stage of psychological growth to take place.

A deeply moving meditation on what euthanasia reveals about the status of the soul in our age, DENIAL OF THE SOUL is a masterwork of grace and scholarship, of meaning and medicine, of compassion and honesty. Through compelling stories from Dr. Peck’s own experiences as a doctor as well as other medical cases in which some form of euthanasia was either practiced or considered, he explores the core issues that should arise when people face the question of euthanasia for themselves, their loved ones, or society. In DENIAL OF THE SOUL, M. Scott Peck’s trenchant and sensitive treatment of euthanasia will define our humanity for generations to come.


A Collection of Suicide Notes

edited by Marc Etkind

Riverhead Books

$10.00, paper, 114 pages


Suicide is the ultimate enigma. Why would someone wish to end his or her own life? How deeply depressed must one be to decide that his or her life is no longer worth living? Often the only insight we have into the minds of these troubled souls comes in the form of their suicide notes. This book gives us a rare glimpse at the lives—and deaths—of both the famous and the obscure.

The growing importance of newspapers during the eighteenth century provided suicides with a forum in which to share their final thoughts. Suicide, long considered to be shameful and sinful, became a form of self-expression. Suicides were now able to use the suicide note as a means of crafting their deaths to achieve sympathy, revenge, or posterity. These notes resulted in changing attitudes toward suicides. The public came to understand that very common problems often led these people to such desperate acts. The notes in ...OR NOT TO BE, from hopeful to hopelessly morose, all have one thing in common—they contain somebody’s final thoughts.

Here are the last letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Yukio Mishima, Cesare Pavese, Hermann Goring, Sylvia Plath, Jim Jones, Vince Foster, Diane Arbus, and others—as well as suicide notes by those who did not go through with the deed, including Dorothy Parker, Ken Kesey, and O.J. Simpson. Illuminated by thought-provoking research and psychological analyses, the parting words gathered in ...OR NOT TO BE are living legacies of the departed.


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