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Americans have a tendency to fixate on what’s commonly thought of of as “a good death” — surrounded by loved ones, a peaceful, quiet passing that looks like falling asleep. But physician Joel B. Zivot and medical philosopher Ira Bedzow are cautious about how this preoccupation can shield people from the reality of death. When they read a recent report in JAMA on using medication to eliminate the “death rattle” — a soft moan or gargling sound sometimes made by people when death is near — they knew they needed to write about the dangers of curating death for the witnesses rather than focusing on those who are dying.

Our culture of curated deaths, they say, extends to state executions, in which people are often injected with paralytics when they are put to death. That makes these deaths easier for the witnesses, but not for those being executed.


“I don’t want to curate death experiences to make life seem superficial,” Bedzow said. “That scares me.”

The conversation is based on a First Opinion by Bedzow and Zivot titled, “What the death rattle and capital punishment have in common.

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