The art of dying well – Margaret McCartney

Quantity or Quality?

An excellent article in the Spectator by Glasgow GP Margaret McCartney where she asks the question, “Do we want to live as long as modern medicine allows us, or only so long as life is sweet?”

Death is our only shared destiny, but we are in a new era; it’s not unusual to have 70-year-olds looking after a 90-year-old parent. A few years ago we had to reorganise the shelving in the general practice where I work in order to accommodate the notes of our octogenarians and nonagenarians. In 1917, King George V sent out 24 messages to people having a 100th birthday. In 2011, the Queen sent 9,736.

This is worth celebrating. Just before Christmas, I was languishing in a long queue at the Post Office where a 93- and a 94-year-old were holding court, debating the standards of humour in the greetings cards display to such uproar that the postmistress had to pause to wipe tears of laughter away. Age does not mean a loss of fun, vivacity, or pleasure in living.

But age is still the most potent risk factor for death, and many older people at the end of life have its quality impaired by loneliness and, frankly, too much medicine. If we want good living right up until we die, we should be examining what makes it good — and what stops it being so.


PS For the past 45 years I have churned out a few lines of Roger McGough’s poem “let me die a young man’s death” when death and dying comes up in conversation, I find he has re-written it as, “not for me a young man’s death”….

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