||People have been dying ever since there have been people. Yet even if we can count
on death as a constant, humanity’s response to death remakes itself time and time
again. In our contemporary moment, leaps and bounds in biomedical research have made
possible a new form of death: the technical one. Cutting-edge treatments and state-of-the-art
technologies can give us years of life, but they also allow us to postpone death and
prolong dying in ways no previous culture has ever known.
How do we decide? What determines how we choose to die? Our decisions are informed
by cultural narratives, stories that circulate in our societal subconscious. Narratives
manifest themselves in the way we speak and write and think about the world, and if
there is any subject for which humans have always constructed narratives, it is the
subject of death.
This paper will explore one of these narratives. The advances of biomedicine make
possible a crusade for unlimited life and secular salvation, an endeavor that echoes
Christianity’s promise of eternal life. Dominant Christian narratives recast in the
medical space may begin to explain aggressive treatment at the end of life, lack of
appropriate conversations about palliative care and hospice, and an overall cultural
inability to accept death as a natural part of life.This essay explores the extent
of these secularized Christian narratives in American culture by performing a close
reading of the rhetoric and imagery that surrounds doctors and disease.