Wednesday, May 17, 2006

no different whined at than withstood

Deep consternation at the Media Organisation That Cannot Be Named about the BBC's plans to air an autopsy. Ick, we chorused, that's when they, you know, cut up a dead person. Eww!

Dr Dick Shepherd (which, may I add, is a particularly chilling name) will describe the process, including - horror - "the smell of cadavers". Well, we can't have that, can we?

Several thoughts: one, it's on BBC3, so only people who work in the media and four insomniacs will see it anyway. Two, what is this strange obsession with not showing on TV things that happen - in this case all the time - in real life?

It speaks volumes about our cosseted existence that news programmes are too squeamish on our behalf to show dead bodies from Iraq and other war zones. It's all very well for us to feel we'd rather our comfortable lives weren't intruded upon by seeing the gory evidence of man's inhumanity to man on TV - but what about all the people for whom that is their day to day life? Wouldn't we be more compassionate and concerned if we actually saw what they see?

I know that children need to be protected from explicit sex and violence, and that's fine - but this is a programme that's on after the watershed, and will no doubt be preceded with all kinds of warnings. Dear Gunther von Hagens' efforts on Channel 4 certainly were. So what we're talking about here is "protecting" adults from something that happens all the time, something that will happen to me, to you, to everybody. "Most things may never happen: this one will."

We try very hard to pretend that death doesn't exist, or that if it does it's a sanitary, clinical process. It's not, of course - I remember going to a French pharmacy with some generalised stomach ailment last year, creaking through in my rusty French ("j'ai une probleme digestif" I blurted out, gesturing vaguely). As I was getting nowhere, my sister (a doctor) said, "See if you can ask for Buscopan - that's what we give to dying people to dry them out."

NHS blog doctor is particularly good on this. He writes: "I hate the clap-happy way the hospice "movement" and the media leads us to belief that dying can be a "learning" experience, a "sharing" experience. It is not."

Coupled with this desire to keep death at arm's length is the strange emphasis on the sanctity of dead bodies. One of the most interesting things David Mitchell said on Mock The Week was something like, "Why do people get upset that, ooh, Grandad's organs have been removed without our permission? Oh of course, that's much worse than throwing him in a ditch!"

Of course, it's not healthy to become obsessed with death - although if you're Philip Larkin, you'll get some good poetry out of it. And perhaps I'm just saying all this because I've never seen a dead body, but I hope not. I do feel that if we stopped trying to hide death away, we'd treat the dying better (and I think the same goes for mental illness).


Anonymous Laura said...

Mum's colleagues when she worked in funerals were all incredibly jolly, happy people and I've tended to find this in the people who work closely with murders/sudden deaths in the police. Seeing death or being near to it tends to remind people how precious time is and hence they make the most of it.

5/18/2006 3:45 pm  
Blogger Artegall said...

And interestingly enough David Mitchell garnered a load of complaints with that comment. Many of them came from the people whose infants' bodies were used without their consent. The complaints said that while logic dictated DM was right, that didn't make what he said less hurtful.

5/18/2006 3:58 pm  
Anonymous galatea said...

Eh? That's outrageous. That's the kind of wishy-washy sentiment that dictates we tell kids that failure is 'deferred success'.

5/18/2006 4:37 pm  
Blogger Tamburlaine said...

You would think that relatives would be happy that their loved one's organs could perhaps be used to save another's life, or add to their quality of life: after all, one has no use for one's body after death, so why should it matter if one's missing a liver, or a heart, that has given desperately ill person a chance of even a few more years?

5/18/2006 6:18 pm  
Blogger Paul B said...

Hello all from far away - apologies, I haven't had time to read this post because I'm in a ludicrously expensive internet cafe in Melbourne. But I'm sure it was good. I was just commenting to mention that there is actually a town in New Zealand called Galatea. I went through it on a bus the other day. And also, New Zealand is the coolest country in the world ever.

I'll be more lucid when I return to England, I promise.

5/19/2006 8:31 am  
Anonymous lb said...

Perhaps we should apply the same principle to useful organs as to material assets, so that one could distribute them amongst one's family after kicking the bucket to do with what they see fit ("I got the liver!")

My descendants are getting nothing, I'm telling you (I'm sure I'll have plenty by then; plenty of descendants, that is). Everything's going as grave goods, or perhaps I'll just pay a lawyer to set fire to it.

5/19/2006 9:27 am  
Anonymous pia said...

I do completely agree that we shouldn't hide these kind of issues away, and it makes me want to take better care of my poor damn organs so that they could be used. It does make me wonder, however, who exactly would settle down in front of the tv (with snacks of course) to watch an autopsy?
Having said that I do watch Big Brother...

5/19/2006 10:13 am  
Blogger galatea said...

Did you not watch any of lovely creepy Dr Gunther?

I did, and more disturbing than the dead people was the bloke they'd hired to be the living demonstration model. The poor chap had been waxed to within an inch of his life. It made me wince just to look at his spotlessly hairless groin.

I like the idea of your distributing organs among friends and relatives, though. Who wants my meninges? Form an orderly line.

5/19/2006 1:12 pm  

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