8E: End of Life: Reflections and Debates
How does a thanatologist die? Spirituality, Eutelia, and the “Crystal Self” in Alaine Polcz’s Autobiographical Writings
University of Debrecen, Hungary
Alaine Polcz (1922–2007) was a Hungarian psychologist, thanatologist, and palliative care expert who established hospice care in Hungary under the oppressive power of the Socialist regime. A survivor of rape trauma during World War II, she devoted her entire life to helping terminally ill children and adults. She was both an internationally acclaimed academic in her field of end-of-life care and author of several autobiographical volumes recollecting her experiences of war, trauma (published in English as One Woman in the War), illness, marriage, infertility, old age, mourning, disability, and finally, death. The paper focuses on the representation of spirituality and the rites of consciously preparing for her own death in her last four books (A Time of Old Age, I Will Not Trot On, The Score, The Last Mile). Putting special emphasis on Polcz’s interpretation of the “crystal self”, that is, the sacred core of the personality believed to be indestructible by the pain of physical suffering, the paper will examine her personal and professional attitudes towards eutelia or “good death”. In order to examine the latter notion, the paper will also explore Polcz’s black humour concerning the grotesque experience of the ageing female body as well as the relationship between chronos and kairos in the process of passing over with dignity. Ultimately, Polcz’s oeuvre calls for the re-spiritualisation of death in the era of hygienic, medicalized, and often lonely death.
‘Conceptual confusion on euthanasia. Reflections on the Softenon and Nuremberg trials as inhibitors to Belgian euthanasia advocacy’*
1Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium; 2deMens.nu, Belgium
Euthanasia is most commonly translated as ‘good death’ and is now widely known as an end-of-life decision involving a form of mercy killing. As one might expect however, these two meanings are not the only ones in existence. In Belgian newspapers and periodicals published between 1950 and 1982, one finds a variety of articles covering the subject. Interestingly, within one edition, the word might be used in a manner similar to that employed in Nazi Germany, be seen as the modern-day mercy killing, be confused with abortion, or indeed might mean something entirely different. This presentation looks at the variety of connotations associated with the term, focusing on articles relating to affairs foreign (proposed legislation by the VELS, the Nuremberg trials) or domestic (the 1961 Softenon trial in Liege). Two resources are used for this project. The first is the Belgica Press collection of the Royal library in Brussels, supplemented by a 1982 publication by the Association pour le Droit de Mourir dans la Dignité. This near 300-page volume consists of newspaper articles published on euthanasia since 1961, providing excellent source material which coincides with its rise of euthanasia as a societal issue spurred on by the unprecedented medical progress. As Belgian newspapers of that period are markedly partisan, understanding the way they dealt with this concept may prove crucial in bringing nuance to the idea that advocates and opponents of euthanasia were to be found on opposite sides of the philosophical-religious fault line at the heart of Belgian society.