INTERIM EDITOR: Roger W. Koment, Ph.D., BSEF Director

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Men fear death as children fear to go in the
dark; and as that natural fear in children is
increased with tales, so is the other.

Francis Bacon

I confess to being unskilled in the subject of death and dying, and as a Virologist tend to view the human body as a living host which supports the pathogenesis of my (electron-) microscopic friends. Nonetheless, as Interim Editor of this column it is my responsibility to introduce this subject and our authors to the reader.

In the following article, Professor June Penney of the Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine brings to light the often hidden feelings within our medical students at the impending experience of human dissection. Importantly, she has discovered and developed means to address several issues regarding perceptions of death, including many of those which reside in us all. Our own fear of death and how each of us resolves that fear is one of these. Francis Bacon wrote: ?There is no passion in the mind of man so weak, but it mates (conquers) and masters the fear of death.?l These fears are bound in mystery and uncertainties. They are bound in the age-old philosophical debates of the meaning of life. Most religions of the world teach that death is a natural part of life, and that a successful life is one that pursues a noble purpose beyond that of mere self-gratification. Perhaps the ancient Vedic writings2 which depict man’s search for the spiritual level state it most pragmatically by delineating the Four Principles of Material Existence: Birth, Disease, Old-Age, and Death. All are subject to their call, and neither accumulation of property nor wealth can alter this progression.

But for active physicians, there is little time to contemplate such weighty issues as the meaning of life and the role of death in its continuum. Physicians must function effectively within the realm of critical situations. Our special invited Postscript commentary by Loice Swisher, MD., vividly and eloquently demonstrates the immediacy and sometimes hopelessness of reality, yet the compassion of a physician’s private thoughts.

As a Virologist I view the human being as a host; but as a man, I have resolved my struggles with these questions through a combination of internal strength, compassion, and faith. It is these human and spiritual qualities which we can impart to our students by example, and thereby help them provide the necessary strength and compassion to the dying patient and guidance to the attending family.

1.Bacon, F. (1597) Essays or Councils – Civil and Moral. Essay II: Of Death
2Bhagavad-Gita: The Song Celestial (401 BC) A Hindu devotional work in poetic form