Difficult Decisions about Death

I have been faced with difficult decisions for a large part of my life.



Two articles in today’s news feeds are worthy of comment. They highlight difficult decisions many of us may have to make for our ageing relatives or have made for us.

First some background about why these articles caught my attention.

For 35 years or so, I turned my back on the church, not my religion, just the organised part of it.

I could not reconcile the teachings of Christianity with many churches, religious organisations and ministers’ support of the terrorists who murdered and brutalised thousands of innocent people in Rhodesia. Including my parents

Three years ago, now living on another continent, I was led to a small, rural Anglican church in Ontario, with a Vicar and congregation more concerned with providing spiritual guidance than promoting socialist political doctrine.

I found comfort in attending Sunday services. The congregation quickly made Sue and I feel at home. We became more involved in church activities. As two of the youngest members, we have volunteered to take over some of the duties of older parishioners.

Recently, the cemetery manager, in his mid 80s and recovering from back surgery retired. As the only younger and relatively fit male member of the congregation, I was asked if I would take over from him. I felt it my duty to agree.

This week, I have been reading through files and making calls. That has led me to think about death and burials more than I normally would.

Two articles in today’s news feeds are worthy of comment.

The first: Ontario court approves first doctor assisted suicide in the Huffington Post. 

Doctor assisted suicide is a thorny issue. As a horse owner and farmer, I have had to make decisions  to shoot horses, cattle and dogs to put them out of their misery. One part of me thinks we should accord terminally ill people or those suffering intolerable pain, the same respect and quick end as we do our pets and companion animals.

The other part thinks that we will be taking the first steps down a slippery road that will put older people at risk. Human nature tends to show its worst side when money is involved. Older people with assets would be vulnerable to the schemes of greedy heirs and compliant doctors. The promise of riches can test the strongest ethics.

Our health system is under strain from the demands of the ageing population. This will increase in the future. How easy will it be for those trying to balance inadequate budgets to lower the bar for assisted suicide approval when hospital beds are full of terminally ill old patients. Who will be the protector of those targeted for euthanasia?

I am not convinced that our politicians have considered all the consequences of relaxing current laws

I am not a fence sitter, my view is that I would support assisted suicide in the most extreme cases, but only after review by an impartial panel. I believe it is something I would want for myself if I was incapacitated with no hope of improvement.

The second article is interesting because it addresses a problem that I am sure many urban planners wrestle with:

The huge area of expensive real estate occupied by cemeteries and graveyards.

That’s what the second article looks at: Dissolving the dead – a new “green” cremation system.

It describes a system of chemically dissolving the soft tissue of dead bodies and reducing the bones to ash. Read the article if you want the technical details.

The process is much more environmentally friendly than either conventional cremation or burial.

It does not need acres of ground to be used for rows of headstones and the occasional jogger or dog walker.

Two difficult decisions for many people:

Let people suffer or help them end it all?

Burial, cremation or liquefaction?

What do you think? Leave a comment.



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  6 comments for “Difficult Decisions about Death

  1. March 18, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    A timely post Peter.
    This week’s editorial also focuses on the premise of Living Faith.
    Enjoy it as much as we enjoy your posts

    By the way brand new Website Format.
    Your thoughts.

    • Peter
      March 22, 2016 at 9:29 am

      Thank you Chuck, I enjoyed James’ article and left a comment, I like the new format.

  2. Roberta
    March 18, 2016 at 11:53 pm

    I cannot and really should not make death decisions for others. Those decisions are highly personal. I have told all my relatives that I want to be cremated……’Dust to dust’ you know.

    I have made known in writing my preferences upon my death.

    I want my ashes to be thrown on a rose garden so that I can come back every year as a beautiful rose.

    I prefer no ceremony. But if my relatives have to have some thing I want a happy and jolly party with plenty of delicious food. I want people to wear bright and colorful clothes. No black for me. Then I want people to tell funny stories from my life and laugh and laugh and enjoy.

    • Peter
      March 22, 2016 at 9:37 am

      The article I referred to indicated that 60% of Canadians now choose cremation. It was a high percentage in Southern Africa too.

      I would like my ashes scattered back on our farm in Africa, but that is probably impractical now. I would be happy for them to be blown by the wind over a remote part of Canada – preferably in the summer when the trees are green and in brilliant sunshine.

      When my mother died two years ago, she had instructed that no dark clothes be worn, she had chosen the hymns for her service, the church where it would be held and organised everything in advance.

  3. March 20, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    Peter you bring up some very valid points for personal consideration especially if you have been putting off your final decisions about your ultimate exit strategy. The discussion of cemeteries is complex depending on the location and historical aspect.

    One of the areas I am perplexed by are those churches who have been around for a long long time lose their congregation and no one is looking after the premises. What happens to the cemetery loved ones’ plots or the people who have purchased family plots but may not exercised their option yet.

    Interesting and complex issues clearly an area that is often sheilded by the nature of the topic and the privacy of one’s thoughts.

    Always interesting my friend

    Thought provoking.

    • Peter
      March 22, 2016 at 9:43 am

      Good to hear from you Nancy,

      As I understand it, in the Anglican denomination, if small rural churches close (as they are doing), the responsibility for the upkeep of the cemetery rests with the diocese.

      Each cemetery is by law, required to have sufficient funds invested to provide income to maintain the cemetery and to honour sales of pre-purchased plots.

      The system seems to work well. What happens when churches are de-consecrated, the buildings sold and used for other purposes, depends on that future use.

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