By Anne Neumann
This book was way more depressing than I’d anticipated, and I already knew it was called The Good Death. Author Ann Neumann was inspired to research and write this book after she spent a year caring for her dying father. After he passed, she wondered whether he’d had a ‘good death,’ and what that even means in our world. I was interested to read it, of course, because I have some questions about that, myself.
I was looking for a more personal, introspective look at what death means in our lives and how we judge other people’s death, but Neumann is a journalist, and quickly veers off into wider-scope political and institutional controversies around end-of-life care.
After a brief personal introduction of Neumann’s inspiration, the book begins with looking at end-of-life “comfort care,” and how the health care and legal industries define the boundaries of palliative care vs. medical intervention. Because her father had mentioned it as he declined, she discusses assisted suicide, analyzing the arguments made by advocates and protestors. This leads Neumann to further explorations on forced feeding, capital punishment, and disability activism. There are clear linkages between the topics, but the book feels a bit loose and tangled as a whole. It asks a lot of questions and inspires a lot of thought on difficult topics, but doesn’t reach many conclusions.
She does weave personal stories throughout, initially from her experience caring for her father and later as a volunteer with Hospice, and those parts were the most interesting to me, her witnessing the ends of different lives, but also the least deeply explored. I imagine that the journalism experience that benefits her when untangling legal documents and political arguments perhaps hobbles her in more personal reflection.
I was glad to read it because it inspired me to really explore some of my assumptions around life and death, but I finished the book feeling that everything was just in a bit of a mess, and there was no clear way to fix things in the future.
On a more cheerful note, I am completely entranced (possibly to an unhealthy degree) by the DC Eagle Cam, live-streaming an eagle family of two adults and two eaglets nesting in the National Arboretum. The adults are such good parents, and the eaglets are completely precious and growing quickly!