What precisely does “dignity” mean in the context of end-of-life decision-making? Does its meaning differ for the patient, for loved ones, for clinicians or bioethicists? The disturbing representation of a kind of assisted suicide in Ari Aster’s 2019 horror film, Midsommar, makes an illuminating text for exploring the concept—widely used and poorly defined—of “death with dignity.” Taking Erving Goffman’s theatrical model of self-presentation as an invitation to apply the criteria of dramatic genre to the act of dying, I suggest that attention to horror, both an emotion we arguably associate with the opposite of dignity and a genre than enables us to test our ideas about good dying and its alternatives, enables us to consider how health care might identify and sustain a more flexible and ethical approach to ways of dying.
About the Speaker:
Catherine Belling is Associate Professor of Medical Education (Bioethics and Medical Humanities), at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, where she teaches in the MA program in Medical Humanities and Bioethics and directs the MD students’ medical humanities and clinical ethics curriculum. Her first book, A Condition of Doubt: On the Meanings of Hypochondria (Oxford University Press, 2012), won the 2013 Kendrick Book Prize (Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts). She has published in journals such as Narrative, Academic Medicine, Genre, and Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, and was editor in chief of the journal Literature and Medicine (JHUP) from 2013 to 2018. Her current book project explores the place of horror (as both affect and genre) in medicine.