Attitudes to Ageing and Dying
David Powell (2013), Powell Charity Trust, Peniel
216 pages; £7.50. ISBN: 978-0-956-23362-2
This is an awkward book, for at least three reasons. First, the book is difficult to get into. To start any book with a chapter on medical terminology followed by one on statistics must toll the death knell for most would-be readers. Thankfully, from chapter 3 onwards, it brightens up somewhat with decent analyses of ageing, ageism, the elderly and their roles from both secular and Christian perspectives. It then jumps to consider dying and in particular death, its definitions, causes, associated conditions, hard cases and so on. Next, 'hot issues' such as euthanasia, assisted suicide, the Liverpool Care Pathway and dementia are discussed. Finally, the Christian approach to death, the consolations of the Gospel and the comforts of heaven are reassuringly presented.
Second, the book is a difficult read. The chapters do not flow – there is no grand connecting theme. At times the pages resemble a collection of press cuttings, mostly from The Daily Telegraph and the British Medical Journal, with chunky quotations, but with little explanation or cogent assessment. I was often unsure of the author's opinion and intention. There are too many unhelpful gaps and vague statements. For example, p.110 mentions '… the likes of Harris, Singer and Warnock' but provides no explanation of their dreadful thinking and influence. Or, in defining euthanasia on p.111, the important categories of non-voluntary and active euthanasia are omitted. At several junctures I felt I was having a fireside chat with an octogenarian pathologist – it was quite interesting, but too unstructured to be truly informative.
Third, the book has a more serious and recurring failure. An example appears on p.126 with the grand statement: 'We must then rely on the principles and implications of biblical teaching ...' But those 'principles and implications' are nowhere clearly defined and explained. Too many times, the author ducks out with aphorisms such as '... it is unwise to generalize', or ‘… it is not for me to judge or condemn.’ Sadly, this book will not necessarily persuade anyone to be wholeheartedly against, for instance, euthanasia and assisted suicide. Yet these are the very bioethical issues of the day and Christians need clear Bible-based teaching to enable them to formulate and defend their stance. This is no time to be a Mr Facing-both-ways.
An addendum. What can a book like this, good in parts, teach us? First, above all, an author needs always to bear in mind the reader. It is not good enough to dump 'everything I know about' a particular topic onto the written page. A carefully-constructed, reader-oriented plan is essential. Think reader - will he understand this, does he need to grasp that? I write with a particular man in view, though he does not know it! Second, every manuscript needs rigorous editing and re-editing - is this chapter, paragraph, sentence and word in the right place, is it even necessary? The savage rule is: if in doubt, cut it out. Third, engage a good copyeditor. Nowadays these are rarities, but they can help restructure and improve a manuscript enormously. Fourth, think twice/thrice before publishing your own book. Why do it? Too often it is a route not only to satisfying an ego but also to producing an uncritical, too-personalized tome. Fifth - does the world really need/want your book?