Town and Gown: Mitchell, Jordan address death and dying

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Ben Mitchell, provost and vice president for academic affairs, speaks on Death & Dying during a Town & Gown lecture in Providence Hall. | Photo by MiKalla Cotton, staff photographer

Ben Mitchell, provost and vice president for academic affairs, spoke on the subject of death and dying during Monday night’s Town and Gown lecture.

In his lecture, Mitchell talked about the way in which people die. He began by asking the question “How would you like to die?”
Mitchell said often people hope to die quickly and painlessly. People don’t want to suffer through sickness and die slowly, they want death to happen instantly.
There are reasons, however, that people would rather be spared an instantaneous death, Mitchell said. Some people hope to get their affairs in order before they die, have time to settle their faith and say goodbye to the people the care about most.
Mitchell said the way people die has morphed over the years.
“The way in the 1900s that people died was typically after a short or acute period of illness and then there was a precipitous decline and people died,” he said. “By the turn of the 21st century, by the turn of 2000, our experience was much different. There was an average of 30 months from the time of acute illness and death.”
Mitchell said the reason for the change is due to more technology and medical advancements. Because of these developments, people are now capable of surviving with a serious illness longer, thus, prolonging death.
Because death is now prolonged, the issue of quality of life arises more often.
In a hypothetical situation, a young woman is brain dead and on life support in the hospital. She remains in this state for several months; the doctors say she will never come out of her vegetative state. The question arises, “Does one leave her on life support because she is, in fact, alive?” Or “Does one turn off her life support, allowing her to pass away naturally, because, though she is alive, she has no real quality of life?”
Mitchell explained these questions have caused many legal disputes over the recent years.
After Mitchell’s lecture, Greg Jordan, professor of business law and ethics, gave his lecture on death and dying which continued the topic from a legal point of view.
Jordan said everyone has assumptions about how and when they will die. Nobody expects a sudden death or parents to outlive their children. Death is unpredictable; however, it is something for which one can be prepared.
There are several ways to prepare for death, Jordan said. There are wills, intestacy law, contracts, rights of survivorship and Medicade/TennCare recovery which set up a plan for one’s assets after one’s death. Jordan gave insight into different legal stipulations and laws on death and life preparations.
Justin Barnard, associate professor of philosophy and coordinator of the lecture series, said the topic of death and dying is important to consider.
“Death is a universal human experience; and it is often one that we are not prepared for because we really tend to think in short term, rather than thinking in the long term,” he said. “I do think it is an important topic for everybody to give some consideration to, to give some thought to because it’s something we are all going to have to face at some point.”
The next lectures in the series will take place on Monday, April 18, at 6 p.m. in Providence Hall Room 160.
Image courtesy of MiKalla Cotton|Cardinal & Cream