January 22, 1997

Facing Death: Where Culture, Religion, and Medicine Meet

Author Affiliations

Southwestern Medical Center Dallas, Tex New York University Medical Center New York, NY


edited by Howard M. Spiro, Mary G. McCrea Curnen, and Lee Palmer Wandel, 212 pp, with illus, $27.50, ISBN 0-300-06349-0, New Haven, Conn, Yale University Press, 1996.

JAMA. 1997;277(4):346. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540280084041

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Years ago, I remember older Jewish men sitting on park benches greeting each other, "Soll sie leben bis hundert zwansig jahr." This Yiddish wish—"may you live to 120"—honored the biblical age of Moses. Moses was short-lived compared with Adam who reached 930, deprived of an even riper age owing to transgressions in the Garden of Eden. With the passage of time, I have come to realize how meagerly we have been taught about aging and the end of life.

Thanatology, the study of death, has been avoided by medical educators and relegated to philosophers and theologians. Perhaps this is understandable: witness the heated debate surrounding euthanasia and concern about the enthusiasm of students and younger physicians as they encounter the terminally ill and learn the limits of physicians' labors.

Facing Death is a slender volume with contributions from experts ranging from historian to biblical scholar, surgeon to philosopher. All have