Monday, March 26, 2012

Death and Dying

As an open Atheist, you can expect to hear this question frequently: "How can you not believe that there is something better waiting for you in the afterlife?"  The easy answer is that I simply do not need to believe it.  I'm happy with my life as it is, and for me, this is all I get, this life and no other.  I consider myself lucky to be, but a blip on the radar of time.  The amount of time I occupy this earth is nothing more than a minuscule fraction of all of time.  The reason I am on this earth is simply because, evolutionarily, I was selected for, and my purpose is nothing more than to live my life, enjoy it, try to help others as much as possible, leaving the earth better than when I came into it, and dying so that someone else may take my place.  Like it or not, there are limited resources on this earth and every person and every organism that has ever lived could never occupy it at the same time.  We all die so that someone or some thing else may take our places.  It's truly that simple.

In my profession, I am faced with death on a rather frequent basis.  Many people would describe my business as a battle with death, in an attempt to win.  If I win, my patient survives, if I lose, my patient dies.  I'm not happy with that analogy though, for a few reasons.  First, I can never win the battle with death.  The best I can do is to delay it.  Second, I do not view death as the "enemy." Just before his passing, the first patient to take advantage of the physician assisted suicide law in Oregon (AKA the Death with Dignity Law) told his physician "Doctor, death is not the enemy, the enemy is humanity."  Indeed I cannot count the number of times in which I have witnessed death to be merciful.  After all, I am an Atheist and this life is all I have to live for, why would I want to spend it suffering?  A very wise man once told me, that as a physician, my job is to help my patients die as young as possible, as late in life as possible.  I strive to reach this mark each and every day.

The next question that I inevitably receive is: "So, there's no afterlife according to you, so what exactly is there?"  My reply is just as simple as my answer to their first question, and happens to be a quote from Epicurus, I'm certain that "your non-existence after death will be no worse than your non-existence prior to your birth."  This seems to bring my view about the afterlife into a better prospective for the believers in a heaven, nirvana, or otherwise enlightened state postmortem.

Because I deal with death and dying on a near daily basis, it's an area that is rather interesting to me, you should expect more writings on it in the future.  I'm only getting started.

-The Atheist Physician