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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Apr-18 > A fate worse than death

A fate worse than death

We behave as if dying is the worst outcome—but, as Cathy Rentzenbrink discovered, life and death is no longer a black and white situation

The changing face of death


In the summer of 1990 my brother, Matty, was knocked over by a car. He was 16 and I was 17 and we lived in a little village in Yorkshire above the pub our parents owned. I knelt by Matty’s unconscious body in the road and travelled with him in the ambulance. I could tell by the demeanour of the ambulance men how serious it was. “We’ve got a bad one here,” said the driver, into the radio. The other man was slicing off Matty’s T-shirt which was now entirely dark red. “Why is there so much blood?” I asked, “I can’t see any cuts.” “It’s coming from the back of his head, lass,” he said. “Talk to him, love, keep talking. Keep him with us.”

I laid my hand on Matty’s bare, bloodstained chest and I talked and talked until we arrived at hospital. Then Matty was rushed away from me. I filled out forms with a nurse and rang my parents. I can still hear my mother’s voice as I delivered the information that would throw a grenade into our lives.

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In Prospect's April issue: Four writers explain how our relationship with death has changed in as technological and medical advances have been made in recent years. Joanna Bourke explores how modern life is now able to live on through social media sites, Cathy Rentzenbrink explains how (referring to the case of her own brother) a “twilight zone,” in which someone is neither alive nor dead, has been created through medical advances. Michael Marmot argues that we are experiencing a change in regards to our life expectancy—over the course of a series of decades we have seen life expectancy increase, but what do recent decreases actually mean. Meanwhile, Philip Ball writes about his participation in an experiment to create a second brain from his own flesh. Elsewhere in the issues: Jane Kinninmont questions whether the Saudi Crown Price, Mohammed bin Salman, really knows what he’s doing, Daniel Howden charts how European attitudes to migrants might be changing and Jay Elwes asks: Does a Cornish mine hold the answer to questions about the UK’s green future?