At first, this book, with its dancing skeletons on the cover, didn’t impress me. The author discussed a loss she had suffered, mentioning that Americans don’t grant a bereaved person much respect or attention when the person being mourned falls outside of a few clear categories – immediate family being the most prominent.
Then Ms. Buist, able to work without going into an office, departed on a world tour to check out death festivals and practices in various cultures. I didn’t feel particularly responsive to what she wrote about Mexico and Nepal.
But back in the USA, she stumbled onto transhumanism, of which I had been wholly unaware! I missed it! OMG. (I don’t like missing things.) Transhumanists, according to Ms. Buist, believe that we can and should develop technology that will permit us to live forever as CYBORGS. Just keep replacing your organic parts (including your brain) with well-designed machinery, and you can live forever.
Transhumanists consider it weak to “accept” death. They detest the contemporary American “death positivity” movement, which seeks to overcome the taboo against talking about death and encourages people to plan for their final days. Ms. Buist analyzes these movements in terms of both gender and socioeconomic status (relative privilege), and it gets VERY interesting. Why are most tranhumanists male and many “death positive” spokespeople female? (Did she miss Atul Gawande?) She also analyzes the Mexican Santa Muerte movement, which translates roughly to “Holy Death”, symbolized by a female death figure to whom one can pray for a delay in leaving this life. (Okay, I missed this, too. And it is somehow related to narcotics trafficking.) Both the Mexican government and the Roman Catholic church disapprove of Santa Muerte, going so far as to destroy shrines. I’m pretty sure this hasn’t gotten to New Jersey.
Will Erica Buist tackle the controversial “medical aid in dying” movement? I’m only on page 139 of 296. Six more countries to go! I definitely plan to keep reading.