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November 2, 1984

Death Is Not the Enemy

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine (Dr Landau) and the Divinity School (Dr Gustafson), University of Chicago.

JAMA. 1984;252(17):2458. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350170060023

KARL Barth, a 20th-century Protestant theologian, wrote, "Life is no second God, and therefore the respect due it cannot rival the reverence owed to God." On the other hand, for secularized persons in a secular society, there is no "first God" and thus nothing due more respect or reverence than life itself. Life and its preservation become more than the necessary conditions for the realization of a measure of self-fulfillment and for capacities to contribute to other persons and to society. They become virtually ends in themselves. The pursuit of health and the preservation of physical life seem to have replaced "salvation," the glorification of God, or the beatific vision as the chief end of man. To the secular person, what theologians call "the conditions of finitude," those inexorable restraints and limitations on human life of which the final one is death, seem repressive since there is nothing real or