Is there a right way to approach death?

From ABC Health and Wellbeing, 17 January 2014:

In the 15th century, an unknown Dominican friar penned Ars Moriendi, or The Art of Dying. At the time, it offered an immensely popular guide on the attainment of a ‘good death’ and spawned a rash of translations and copycats across Europe.

One wonders what its author would have made of the social and traditional media storm currently raging over the tweet-by-tweet demise of Lisa Bonchek Adams – a woman with metastatic breast cancer – and the two newspaper opinion pieces by husband and wife journalists decrying Adams’ public and private handling of her illness.

Adams, an American wife and mother of three, has stage IV cancer that has spread throughout her body. There is no stage V. Since her diagnosis six years ago, Adams has tweeted (@AdamsLisa) more than 166,000 times and blogged extensively about her experiences.

She was already hugely popular when, one week ago, she came to the attention of The Guardian US columnist Emma G. Keller, who wrote a piece examining the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness and asking whether Adams’s tweet-marathon was educational, or too much. There’s a hint of nose-wrinkling disapproval in Keller’s piece, as if Adams is sharing the gory details of her sex life.

Four days after this was published, Keller’s husband Bill Keller, former editor of The New York Times, weighed in with a column of his own in The New York Times in which he subtly criticised the ‘heroic measures’ taken by Adams and others, and instead nodded towards what he described as the more ‘humane and honourable’ alternative of “being unplugged from everything except pain killers and allowed to slip peacefully from life”.

Since the publication of those two columns a Vesuvius of comment has erupted across the internet, and Emma Keller’s piece has been pulled from The Guardian’s website (you can read why here).

Much of the heat has been directed at the Kellers for kicking the cancer patient when she’s down, and for a slew of questionable journalistic practices, such as quoting from direct messages without permission and getting key facts wrong. Read more.

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