Life training for death

By Zhang Lei ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-04-20 17:14:08

Life training for death

Song Chen / China Daily

A budding academic movement seeks to prepare medical students for the philosophical questions that follow patients' passing. Zhang Lei reports.

Life's greatest certainty is its end. This reality has prompted Yale philosophy professor Shelly Kagan to examine in his class twice a week shared beliefs about death and consequential moral questions. The university course was recorded for open courses and put online in 2007. But Peking University Health Science Center professor Wang Yifang found the course to be too long, academic and philosophical for students in their early 20s to understand how to face death with respect and rationality.

"The lack of death's proper acknowledgement arises from one of the biggest problems our society faces-the poverty of faith-and it has caused a lot of social problems," Wang says.

"Accompanied by a variety of temptations, we move toward utilitarianism, technological paramountcy and consumerism. So we bet our meanings of life and happiness on them. Thus our society has a distorted view of the nature of death."

While his Dialects of Nature course is about contemporary Chinese Marxist philosophy, Wang inserts perspectives about life and death he believes are necessary for medical students, who will soon find themselves directly dealing with these issues.

"Medical students should understand death issues at age 25, while ordinary people usually gain such understandings at 45," he says.

After inviting Confucian scholars to talk about the Chinese sage's concept of death for hours in his class, he found students were still at a loss. They're too young, and few have experienced the deaths of their loved ones, let alone of their patients.

He decided these future doctors must first gain an awareness in a virtual environment by immersing them in death literature, theater and film.

He calls it "death training".

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