Knowing one’s death: philosophical considerations

Siby K George

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2017.002


Abstract

Coming to know and accept one’s impending death allows terminally ill persons to face their mortality without deception. While life as such is a constant race towards death, terminal illness brings one’s own death closer to experience. Being in the face of death in this manner can be transformed into an ontologically rewarding experience. Research on medical practices of truth telling in cases of terminal illness tends to show that there is healthy acceptance of impending death in western contexts, whereas in other contexts patients are more likely to do well when poor prognosis is concealed from them. This paper considers the case of knowing one’s death in terminal illness, and explores responses to truth-telling and allied issues in non-western contexts like India from a philosophical/reflective rather than prescriptively ethical or empirically evidenced perspective. It argues that culturally contextualised, sensitive ways of helping patients know that they are terminally ill can lead to a more spontaneous and freer acceptance of death in nonwestern contexts.

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