WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE!

A continuing series discussing
the terms we use in the right-to-die debate


"hastened death""timely death"


by James Leonard Park



OUTLINE:

1.  WHAT ARE WE HASTENING? AND DO WE WANT TO HASTEN IT? 

2.  HOW PEOPLE WHO CHALLENGE THE 'RIGHT-TO-DIE'
     MIGHT USE THE EXPRESSION "HASTENED DEATH".

3.  "TIMELY DEATH" MIGHT BE BETTER THAN "HASTENED DEATH".

4.  CAN PEOPLE WHO OPPOSE THE RIGHT-TO-DIE
      MISUSE THE EXPRESSION "TIMELY DEATH"?

5.  "CHOOSING A VOLUNTARY DEATH"
      MIGHT BE BETTER THAN "HASTENING DEATH".

6.  WE WANT TO AVOID DELAYED DEATH
    
A PROCESS OF DYING THAT IS UNNECESSARILY PROLONGED.




    When we refer to the practice of shortening the process of dying,
the result is sometimes called a "hastened death".
But is this expression ambiguous and misleading?

    First, the final "d" of the word "hastened"
and the beginning "d" of the word "death"
are often run together.
It sometimes sounds like "hastendeath".
Extra effort is needed to pause between the words.




1.  WHAT ARE WE HASTENING? AND DO WE WANT TO HASTEN IT?

    To hasten something means to make it happen sooner.
Hasten means to hurry up:
"Hasten, Jason, bring the basin. Oops, slop, bring the mop."
"Hasten" is really a rather archaic word,
almost never used in ordinary writing or conversation.
Can we think of any other context in which "hasten" appears regularly?

    When we think of a walker hastening,
we see him walking faster to get to his destination more quickly.
Is walking faster the kind of image we want
when we are talking about end-of-life choices?
"You're dying? Hurry up!"
Wouldn't it be wiser to take each step slowly and carefully,
avoiding mistakes that might cause a premature death?

     A similar word in English is "hustle".
Members of the sports team are encouraged to hustle.
When death is the context, the connotations turn negative.
No one wants to be hustled into death.
That suggests coercion or manipulation.
Hustling and careful dying do not seem to go together.

    A more common English word is "hasty".
And some of its connotations surely rub off on the word "hasten".
"Hasty" means that we are doing something in a hurried or rushed manner.
When things are done "in haste", they are often done poorly.
Who would favor a "hasty death" or a death achieved "in haste"?

    If anything, we want to be more careful about our end-of-life choices
than any other decisions we make in life.
A life-ending decision has permanent results:
The patient is dead now and forever.
Once death has been achieved,
we cannot go back to correct mistakes.

    Do we really want to say that we approve of "hastened death"?
Rather, we favor life-ending decisions that are:
thoughtful, careful, well-planned, & fully-discussed.
All appropriate safeguards should be applied for every life-ending decision.
Fulfilling several meaningful safeguards does not suggest
a hasty process, a decision made in haste, or even a "hastened death".
It is better to exercise too much caution
than to reach a life-ending decision in too much haste.
 
    Rushing any process of making life-ending decisions
might cause serious, irreparable mistakes.
For ourselves, we want death to be chosen very carefully,
to be achieved at the best time rather than hastened.
Dying at the best time might be called having a "timely death".




2.  HOW PEOPLE WHO CHALLENGE THE 'RIGHT-TO-DIE'
     MIGHT USE THE EXPRESSION "HASTENED DEATH".


    Whenever we are choosing the most appropriate language
for the end-of-life choices that we want to ensure,
we should consider how people who oppose such options at the end of life
are going to use or misuse any expression we might choose.

    What do we think of the following sentence?
"I strongly oppose any form of hastened death."
On first reading, this does not seem to be an outlandish statement.
This statement opposes some forms of human behavior.
And this condemned behavior seems to be hastening death,
bringing death too soon or prematurely.
These opponents are saying that no one should hasten death.
Perhaps they favor letting death come in its own way, in its own time.
They might say they favor a natural death.

    Some opponents of the right-to-die will surely muddy the waters
by claiming that a hastened death is the same as a premature death.
But premature death is precisely one of the dangers we all want to avoid.
We favor all rational choices at the end of life,
not merely the option of shortening the process of dying.
We want death to come not too soon and not too late.

    What alternatives to "hastened death"
might prevent such distortions by the opposition?




3.  "TIMELY DEATH" MIGHT BE BETTER THAN "HASTENED DEATH".

    Whenever "hastened death" appears in our speech or in our writing,
we should think of better ways of saying what we mean.

    "Timely death" is very appealing.
And when we have enough time or space to explain what we mean,
we can say that a "timely death" means not too soon and not too late.
We are choosing the best time to die.

    Most human beings are doomed to die too soon.
Our lives will be cut short,
ended before we have achieved all of our possible meanings.

    But with the advent of life-support systems,
we now might have lives that went on too long.
If we are kept 'alive' for years by feeding-tubes in persistent vegetative state,
what will be said about the timing of our deaths?
We might have passed the best time for us to die years before.
Could it be said that we died too late?

    When we use the expression "timely death",
we encourage deeper thinking about its meaning.
This expression does not say just when we should die
in order to have a timely death.
But it opens two extremes to be avoided
dying too soon and dying too late.

    A "hastened death" always means shortening the process of dying.
A "timely death" would sometimes mean
continuing to live until some significant event has been fulfilled.
Seeking a timely death could easily mean trying to live longer.

    When we really do mean shortening the process of dying,
we can use that expression or another like it.
Here we focus on the duration of the downward journey that ends in death.
When it is absolutely certain that death will result,
few of us want unnecessarily to prolong the process of dying.

    And because of medical advances, most of us who are now alive
will make some choices as we near the end of our lives.
And if we are no longer able to make our own medical decisions,
family members (or more formal proxies)
will make medical decisions that will affect the exact time of our deaths.

    We hope that all due consideration will be exercised
in making the decisions that shape our last year of life.
When we consider the end of our own lives,
we hope for the ideal time and the ideal means.

    We like the idea of planning our last days
in order to achieve the most meaningful end for our lives.
Who would prefer to be remembered as having a "hastened death"?
Wouldn't we prefer to have it said that we had a "timely death"?
Not too soon and not too late.




4.  CAN
PEOPLE WHO OPPOSE THE RIGHT-TO-DIE
     MISUSE THE EXPRESSION "TIMELY DEATH"?


    Is it possible to say anything negative about a timely death?
Opponents might claim that it is a code word for 'pulling the plug'
or hastening death in some other way.
But even if they do object to the expression "timely death",
they will have to utter or write the words "timely death".

    What opponent would use the following sentence?
"I strongly oppose any form of timely death."
That would sound as foolish as saying:
"I strongly oppose any form of good death."

    Is "timely death" a bullet-proof expression?
Whoever tries to shoot at "timely death"
finds that the bullet bounces off harmlessly
or ricochets to wound the shooter.

    Let's see if "timely death" or "death at the best time"
might be good substitutes for "hastened death".
We might substitute a more thoughtful expression
every time we are tempted to say "hastened death".




5.  "CHOOSING A VOLUNTARY DEATH"
     MIGHT BE BETTER THAN "HASTENING DEATH".


    In active form "hastened death" is "to hasten death" or "hastening death".
We find this expression is such statements as:
"The patient decided to hasten his death."
Or "The family agreed that hastening death was the best course of action."

    If we think carefully about what we are saying here,
it might easily seem that we are being hasty or deciding in haste.

    A better expression might be "choose a voluntary death".
Here there is no danger of seeming hasty and unthoughtful.
The above statements would then be:
"The patient chose a voluntary death."
Or "The family agreed that voluntary death was the best course of action."

    Here the emphasis shifts from how much time it takes to die
to how free and uncoerced the choice was.

    When we introduce the new concept of voluntary death into the debate,
we will need to distinguish it as clearly as possible from irrational suicide.
We can find common ground with the opposition
in attempting to prevent all forms of irrational suicide and premature death.
Here is an essay distinguishing these two key concepts:
Will this Death be an "Irrational Suicide" or a "Voluntary Death"?:
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/CY-IS-VD.html

    And once again, it is difficult for the opposition to say:
"We oppose every form of voluntary death."
But it makes good sense for everyone to say:
"We oppose all forms of irrational suicide and premature death."




6.  WE WANT TO AVOID DELAYED DEATH
    
A PROCESS OF DYING THAT IS UNNECESSARILY PROLONGED.

    When we choose a timely death for ourselves and/or others we love,
we are hoping not for a sudden rushing at the end of life.
Rather, we hope to proceed with "all deliberate speed"
not too fast and not too slow.

    When our lives as persons are drawing to a close,
we want first to make certain that we could never return
to the daily lives that we knew and appreciated.
But when we are convinced that death is inevitable,
then we want to avoid unnecessary delays on the way to death.
Why increase the number of days of terminal suffering?
And if the patient is unconscious
and therefore no longer suffering
what purposes are served in continuing life-supports?

    Even people who initially thought they opposed the 'right-to-die'
might agree that grandmother should not have her body kept 'alive'
as long as technologically possible.
What might convince the original opponents of a timely death
that this dying process has been prolonged long enough?

    Can we agree that we want to avoid unnecessarily-prolonged dying?
And if so, what should be call this?  Timely death?
Sometimes we can substitute "shortening the process of dying".



Created February 24, 2007; revised 3-8-2007; 3-15-2007; 3-22-2007; 4-1-2007; 4-3-2007 4-4-2007;
1-18-2008; 9-1-2008; 1-10-2010; 1-18-2012; 1-19-2012; 2-12-2012; 2-22-2012; 3-29-2012; 7-18-2012; 9-12-2012;
5-4-2013; 6-22-2013; 5-26-2014; 7-18-2014;



    Other alternatives for these offending and misleading phrases are welcome.
What would be good replacements for "hastened death" and "hastening death"?
Additional alternatives can be added to this article when suggested.
Send your alternatives to James Park: e-mail: parkx032@umn.edu.

    This critique of the expression "hastening death" and its close relatives
is also
Chapter 17 of How to Die: Safeguards for Life-Ending Decisions,
entitled Could "Timely Death" Replace "Hastened Death"?

    If you agree that we should use the most appropriate language,
perhaps you would like to join a Facebook Seminar
that will discuss and help revise this whole book.

    See the complete description for this seminar:
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/ED-HTD.html

    Join our Facebook Group called:  
Safeguards for Life-Ending Decisions:
http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/groups/107513822718270/



Read about "physician-assisted suicide""physician aid in dying".

Read about "medication""life-ending chemicals".

Read about "euthanasia""gentle death".



Go to Safeguards for Life-Ending Decisions



Go to Portal for the Right-to-Die



Go to the opening page for this website:
An Existential Philosopher's Museum
















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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.