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Columbia professor hosts lecture on the art of dying

Ben DeMarais
The lecture led the audience to think about what death means to them.

Columbia University’s Dr. Lydia Dugdale spoke to a crowded MacKay lecture hall Thursday on a subject considered taboo by some: the art of dying.

Dugdale is the associate professor of medicine at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons as well as director of the Center for Clinical Medicine. In addition to her positions at Columbia University, Dugdale also serves as associate director of clinical ethics at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Following her time as associate director of the program for biomedical ethics, Dugdale began studying medical ethics as well as issues surrounding end-of-life. She went on to edit “Dying in the Twenty-First Century” and authored her own book, “The Lost Art of Dying,” a book focusing on the preparation for death.

Dugdale’s lecture, presented by the Thomistic Institute of Iowa State University, dug into the topic of death and how one might go about preparing themselves to face it.

“I came in hopes of discovery mostly. There’s just so much about death that we don’t know,” said Valerine Jepchirchir, a sophomore in computer science.

The lecture began with a stark question posed by Dugdale: “How many of you have sat at the bed of a dying loved one?”

Elizabeth Gregoricka, a senior in accounting, came in hopes of discovering the value in death after experiencing the death of an elderly woman she helped care for.

“I think there’s a certain dignity in dying,” Gregoricka said.

While the title of the lecture may seem ominous, Dugdale set out to explain the true beauty of death and how to prepare for it properly.

“I feel like we always see death as a bad thing,” Gregoricka said.

Dugdale proceeded to delve into how death has become a modernized process, often cheating death with new medical advances. She proceeded to tell a story of a colleague who had resuscitated a patient back from death seven times in one night.

“Life is very precarious,” Dugdale said.

Dugdale also elaborated on how medicalized death is capitalized on for profit by hospitals and large corporations.

“The kind of wholesale hospitals, combining to become larger and larger, dictating terms of care is killing medical care,” Dugdale said.

Dugdale then shifted the topic to how individuals can go about preparing for death and the true beauty within it.

Dugdale emphasized the importance of maintaining relationships throughout life and that dying only becomes easier based on how an individual lives their life out.

“Dying well is wrapped up in living well. If you want to die well, you have to attend to how you are living,” Dugdale said.

An emphasis was also put on bringing a modern resurgence to the middle-aged philosophy of Ars moriendi, or the art of death. Dugdale listed health, home and hope as the three things it can be summarized to.

Dugdale concluded the lecture with a Q&A, answering student questions about death and the mystery surrounding it.

Jake Sweeney, a junior in computer science, attended Thursday’s lecture in hopes of learning more about the topic of death as a whole.

“It definitely opened my eyes to the way dying has been industrialized and really made me consider how it’ll all play out in my own life,” Sweeney said.

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    Jeanne Rogert | Sep 15, 2023 at 9:06 am

    This was an excellent article. I only wish I had known about the lecture and I would have attended. Thank you for sharing.