The certainty of death – Grupo A Hora

The certainty of death – Grupo A Hora
The certainty of death – Grupo A Hora

A student once asked anthropologist Margaret Mead, “What is the first sign of civilization?” Margaret thought for a moment, then said, “A healed femur. The femur is the longest bone in the body, connecting the hip to the knee.

In societies without the benefits of modern medicine, it takes about six weeks of rest for a fractured femur to heal. A healed femur shows that someone took care of the injured person, did their hunting and gathering, stayed with them, and offered physical protection and human companionship until the injury could be healed. The first sign of civilization is compassion, seen in a healed femur.”

The world has evolved and a question must have been left in the air. It’s okay to feel compassion, but should we offer treatment to every sick or injured person? We all know the greatness of the Egyptian empire, the acquired knowledge of the art of mummifying bodies, but what few know is that Egyptian doctors knew how to distinguish which patients to treat and which were so sick that they did not deserve curative treatment.

The Smith papyrus provides us with notes on physical features of the disease or injury followed by a diagnosis and prognosis that determined the level of treatment to be offered. There were three possible prognoses the Egyptian physician could give: the most favorable was an injury or illness that could be treated and possibly cured.

(Inscription for a cemetery gate)

“Death doesn’t make anyone better…”

Mario Quintana

The next prognosis was more serious and determined that the injury or illness could be treated but not cured. Finally, there was a hopeless prognosis where curative treatment was not offered.
In modern times, we could say that the ancient Egyptians were the inventors of treatment protocols and, more than that, they were the first to recognize the futility of some medical treatments.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, in several passages of his work recommended that in cases considered lost, the doctor should not treat. He is believed to have made this recommendation for the following reasons: Physicians should avoid futile therapy in the face of terminal illness, and physicians who stay with the dying patient to the end may later be blamed for the death and also acquire a reputation for high mortality rates. Furthermore, there was always a risk to the life of the doctor who treated powerful figures and obtained bad results.

In the Middle Ages the Church taught that the fate of a person’s soul was determined not only by his behavior in life, but also by the way he died. Medieval Christians looked forward to a “good death”, ideally at home, in bed, surrounded by friends and family, and with a priest present to administer the Last Rites, the final forgiveness of sins.

Sudden death – the ‘bad death’ – was greatly feared, as dying unprepared, without confessing the sin and receiving the last ceremony, would increase the probability of a long stay in Purgatory or, worse, in Hell.

Now everything has been reversed. We dream of a sudden, quick and painless death, and our vision of compassion is to die in a hospital bed surrounded by technology and pain medication. Have we become less wise?


The article is in Portuguese

Tags: certainty death Grupo Hora

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