The Dean’s Forum: The Spirituality of Dying

Dr. Sheryl Buckley

Sunday, March 9
Dean’s Forum: 10:10 a.m.

Is human life sacred? In Western Culture — both within the religious and secular contexts — human life is regarded as being intrinsically important. In fact, this sense of human life is so indelible that we refer to the deliberate extinction of human life by another human as murder while referring to the killing of animals by humans only as killing. So, how do we honor the sanctity of human life in the face of death? Are we obliged to apply medical life-supporting technology in all cases and circumstances so as to avoid dishonoring the sacredness of human life? In other words, do we have a moral obligation to resist physical death at all costs?

Although this is the level at which much most discussions concerning life-support issues are addressed, is this the only level that needs to be considered? Because of our religious and social bias for the sacredness of life, most people assume that dying — the process of becoming dead — must be a totally negative experience and thus resisted at all costs. And yet, when we view death as part of the life cycle (not as the final enemy), many people and their families are experiencing a time of personal and family growth during the dying process. In fact, for many, death has become a transcendent experience. However, death as an opportunity for growth, can only be realized when death is acknowledged and conversation about death and dying is permitted. 

Mortal Dilemma: What You Need to Know About Dying Before You Are Dying is the book written by Sheryl Buckley as a guide to what every person needs to know about dying in America today. Here she explores the factors that make dying today more problematic than in previous times so that you and your family can mitigate their negative impact on you and your family. Buckley also highlights the various resources available to individuals so that one may shape the dying process so that it reflects one’s deepest values and beliefs. 

Sheryl L. Buckley, B.A., M.D., M.S. graduated from Hiram College in 1968 with a double major in philosophy and pre-medical sciences. She graduated from The Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1972 and did her post-graduate training in anesthesiology at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation where she also served on the medical staff.  Dr. Buckley then served as Director of the Department of Anesthesiology at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Cleveland, the first woman to be appointed a Department Director there. She was also the founding chair of its hospital ethics committee which she led for 9 years. She was the founder of The Rockside Surgery Center and its Medical Director for St. Vincent Charity Hospital and Vice Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at Barberton Citizen’s Hospital where she chaired its Ethics Committee. In 1999 she received a Master’s degree in Administrative Medicine from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Since 1990 she has taught bioethics and philosophy to both undergraduate and Master’s students at Hiram’s Weekend College and has co-edited 2 anthologies which are part of Hiram’s Center for Literature and Medicine’s series published by Kent State University Press. She is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at Hiram and has served as a trustee of the college since 1989.  Dr. Buckley, a long-time elder at Lakewood Presbyterian Church and a trained Stephen Minister, recently served as the Moderator of the Presbytery of the Western Reserve.  In 2013 she publishedMortal Dilemmas: What You Need to Know About Dying Before You Are Dying, after her pastor told her she needed to write this book which draws from all the varied interests, philosophy, bioethics, medical practice, and her faith, which have informed her life.

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