Has anyone really thought about eternal life?

Research projectIdeal and reality of the end of life

"Human history has always been concerned with death, it doesn't do that at all today. It deals with dying, that is something completely different."

The idea of ​​how to deal with dying is subject to a historical change, explains Professor Armin Nassehi, sociologist at the University of Munich. Traditionally in Christian terms, dying was primarily about enabling man to make the transition to God. In death, so the Christian hope, man comes to his ultimate fulfillment of existence, eternal life. For this transition the dying needed above all spiritual support, he needed the final sacraments to forgive his sins, he needed intercession, prayers, possibly even an indulgence so that God would have mercy on his soul.

"In fact, in the tradition, this post-mortem existence was important to the church. It was possible to turn to prayers, and also to address certain goods to the deceased in order to reduce their debt burden."

A shifted perspective

Increasingly, however, explains Prof. Christof Breitsameter, Catholic moral theologian at the University of Munich, the perspective has shifted.

"We look at the process of dying, less at the fact of death, at the time after death, the continued existence after death, whatever it may be."

The way we deal with death is no longer influenced by the hope of eternal life. But today it is all about making it easier for people to die themselves.

"And that is actually a cultural achievement. The church could perhaps make it easier and say, it doesn't matter how people die, the main thing is that they meet the conditions that enable them to continue to exist in heaven or at least in purgatory. And today we are looking at it, should this last period of time be designed in such a way that a person could say that it is reasonably good for me to die? "

Concepts, goals and normative patterns in dealing with the dying

That is why a research project led by the sociologists Armin Nassehi and Irmhild Saake as well as Christof Breitsameter is also called "Vom Gute Die". In hospices and palliative wards, the researchers investigate what ideas, goals and normative patterns are maintained today in dealing with the dying. While in the past, as Armin Nassehi calls it, these were rather relegated to an "organizational invisibility", the concept of "palliative care" has given rise to comprehensive care for terminal patients. Medically, psychologically, socially and spiritually:

"The doctor comes when it comes to dying, stop breathing, stop the pain, see what else can be done with the patient? The social worker says life ends, what happens when you are dead, with your apartment “Pastors can be silent with the patient, talk about completely different things without death and dying occurring.

We have certain expectations of how people should behave at the end of their life (imago stock & people)

And the nurses have to cope with the present, they have to look, can I knock a patient down, help him with excretions, put a pillow down? And then there is also a general normative discourse. "

The art of dying

A discourse that speaks of how dying can 'succeed'. That is when the dying person can finally accept his fate and take stock of his life as a whole.

"There is the ars moriendi, the art of dying, which has developed in the religious tradition. And if you ask what it consists of, then you take the point of view of conscious dying, reconciled striving, composed, calm, one with yourself. And above all with a reconciliation with people and also with God. That is how man should die. "

"An image that has also survived in the secular. In the religious, the 'Pray for us in the hour of our death' appeared. In the secular, that would mean, in the hour of death we would like you to be with yours Reconciling life so that life may be brought to an appropriate end. "

It is precisely that normative discourse that is of particular interest to the researchers in their project. The basic idea of ​​palliative care is that all actors involved in a person's dying process enable them to "die well". Because dying, demanded the founder of "Palliative Care" Cicely Saunders in the 1960s, must be made a holistic matter. A holistic approach that the dying person should contribute to its success:

"You have to take a look at the entire professional field of caring for the dying, it is full of normative expectations towards the dying. The first to start with this was Kübler-Ross at the end of the 1960s, when the question came up , does one actually get to the last phase of death, in which one accepted things? And then there were expectations that one would say that we have to do some reflection about it, otherwise we cannot die adequately. "

The employee of a hospice bends down to a terminally ill resident.

Speaking is better than being silent

The will of the dying person should be the focus of all those involved in terminal care. However, according to Armin Nassehi, he should want the right thing. He should accept his role as a dying person, articulate his needs, and in the end if possible accept his fate. He should have a say. The norm of palliative care awaits the "speaking patient". To put it ironically, the 'mature moribunds', who, enlightened, reflect on the last things in order to find peace in the end.

"Mainly it is about the speaking dying. Both in the hospices and the palliative wards there is such an unwritten law that speaking is better than silence, people should speak. The speaking dying is invented, that is, the one who deals with dying And we actually know, and that is one of the first results that we achieved in the project, that in fact it often does not take place that way. "

That means: the dying often do not want to or often cannot fulfill what the normative pattern dictates.

"You have to imagine it, you haven't thought about such things in your whole life and now in the last three weeks of your life you should bring things up to you like a theologian or a psychologist, as it is above all academically Introduce educated people who have normative expectations of dying. "

But you can't talk about dying with someone who doesn't take on his role. According to the scientists, this often leads to conflicts in the self-image of carers and dying attendants. They perceive it as a failure that the course of death is not as it corresponds to the ideal.

"In dying it is the case that other people's expectations intrude, that others want to know what good dying actually is. And expectations may be disappointed, but for people it's not bad dying."

"There is, for example, aggression, disappointment that some patients do not want to deal with it, that they do not want to talk about it, that they may be doing the same thing that they have otherwise done.

Are you allowed to watch TV in the evening two weeks before you die, as you have done all of life, or do you have to deal with unimportant things? That actually contradicts strong images that we have that the truth of life occurs in death. "

Disturbing images

Pictures that perhaps underestimate how violent and disturbing the expectation of one's own end is. That death cannot be contained in open conversations. So that some might prefer to suppress it than face the approaching end.

"Possibly these are images, the harshness of dying, the final, the fearful, the asymmetrical, that well, nobody wants to die, who actually don't want to see the terrible thing about the situation."

It is no coincidence that many people would prefer to die without actually noticing it. Drop dead, just fall asleep and not wake up the next morning. Doctors sedate the dying, not only because they are relieved of pain, but also of fear. Dying is just not a life crisis at the end of which you reappear more mature. Death is - at least for non-believers - the end, the nothing. It robs life, as Jean Paul Sartre put it, of all meaning. A fact that, according to Friedrich Nietzsche, can only be encountered by the "superman" who fearlessly faces this nothingness. And in this respect it is perhaps "superhuman" to expect the "mature Moribund" who, reflecting and speaking, reconciles himself with his inevitable fate.

"If you were to ask us what is our normative idea, then maybe I would say that maybe you should take the idea of ​​the patient's will really seriously, but have the sensitivity to recognize what the patient's will might consist of. It is very difficult for professionals to leave their clients alone. We would want to create a sensitivity to see that there are very different needs in individual cases and, if we can help, maybe no To find a more merciful form? Mercy actually only means to really look at people's situation and see what they need, then a whole lot would be gained. "