May 23, 2012
Michael Wolff’s family’s tragic circumstance is a manifestation of our society’s pervasive medicalization of death. Since the mid-20th century, technological innovations in medicine—CPR, EMT, MRI, organ transplants, ICUs, pacemakers—have kept patients alive for a much longer time than in previous eras. The average age of death in America in 1900 was 47 years; in 2000, it was 78 years. This means, as Wolff points out in his mother’s story, that one takes a very long time to die—with all the attendant ethical, financial, and personal pain and suffering that accompanies this new reality.