I hope PD Smith and The Guardian will forgive us on this occasion for quoting in its entirety the short review of the new paperback edition of Seamus O’Mahony’s The Way We Die Now in Saturday’s (February 11th) Review section.
About half a million people die in England each year, more than half in a hospital and only 5% in a hospice. Doctors such as Seamus O’Mahony have the unenviable responsibility of deciding whether to continue aggressive medical treatment of dying patients. His aim here is to prompt a wider conversation about death and dying. He argues that society’s obsession with control and individualism has changed our relationship with our own mortality and medicalised death. He is suspicious of attempts by well-intentioned people to “tame” death, “to strip it of its awesome grandeur, to turn it into a process that can be managed, policed, workshopped”. O’Mahony explores the idea of a good death in literature and philosophy, and shows that reality is far more chaotic and unpleasant. He opposes assisted dying (“founded on a rather naive view of human nature”): instead he argues that his own profession needs to embrace a new phase “characterised by a creaturely approach to our patients”. A searingly honest and humane book that is challenging yet profoundly important.
Seamus O’Mahony has, over the last few years, written thirteen review-essays for the Dublin Review of Books, making him one of our most prolific contributors. Two of these, “Licking Death” and “The Big D”, both from 2013, provided the spur to writing a full-length treatment of how we deal with death today, both in terms of the mutual interactions of science, the pharmaceutical industry and medical practice on the one hand and the expectations of patients and their families on the other. The result was The Way We Die Now, published in 2016 by the London publisher Head of Zeus, whose editorial director is Dubliner Neil Belton.
Seamus’s other work for the Dublin Review of Books includes considerations of the claims of psychoanalysis, the practice of modern oncology, the nature of scientific inquiry (the drb’s most read essay ever), the “Irish talker”, with a focus on Mahaffy, Wilde and Gogarty, the doctor and writer Jonathan Miller, and Cork’s own Roy Keane. All of these sparkling essays are still available free of charge under “Seamus O’Mahony” in Contributors on the home page.