I spent yesterday down at KCL for a day seminar on death organised by the Philosophy and Medicine project. I had only to talk for a few minutes to introduce the Epicurean arguments against death being a harm, but I think it was of some interest. But for me the highlights were listening to some of the medical practitioners there who had some profound and humane things to say about the end of people's lives - times that are often distressing, painful, unwanted, and difficult. To spend time and to dedicate yourself to the care of people at the end of their lives, and then to be able to reflect critically and with humour and sensitivity about the proper demands of such circumstances seemed to me to be extremely impressive. The discussion then ranged across law, anaesthetics (something I had thought very little about), literature, general practice, and palliative care, as well as philosophy.
I had some indirect experience recently of how the NHS might medicalise the end of someone's life and it did seem to me that it is something that needs attention. Perhaps, as someone remarked yesterday, doctors have reluctantly and without all the necessary preparation assumed a role as the closest attenders of the dying that used to be filled by priests or by a more extended family. It was sometimes difficult to turn attention away from tests and treatments and pain regimes and focus on the profound truth of someone ending a life. But I think it can be done.