BIOL3060: When Breath Becomes Air

The Intricacies of Dying Well


One of the certainties of life is that it will eventually end.  Unfortunately, the subject of death is often ignored in our society, placed out of sight because it is considered too uncomfortable or awkward to mention.  The topic of death also forces us to deal with unanswered questions in our own lives, sometimes causing an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and fear as people face their own mortality. This perception is also reflected in the Western medical system, which focuses primarily on saving lives and avoiding death, even for the elderly or terminally ill whose life may be naturally coming to an end. But is there a point where death should be accepted and treated as a normal part of life? Can we learn how to better address death from other societies, religions, or cultures? Is it possible to “die well”?  The aim of this course is to discuss the end of life in a meaningful and thought-provoking way, to expand the conversation to create a more holistic view that encompasses multiple perspectives found throughout our world today, especially given the ongoing COVID pandemic. Through group discussion, conversations with experts, and personal reflection, students will achieve a deeper understanding of the dying process, including topics such as biological mechanisms of death, current medical technologies (such as palliative care), bioethics, cultural and religious perceptions of the dying process, and associated legal issues. This course is for students in all majors who are interested in expanding their world view about the dying process and directly confronting the unseen “elephant in the room”.

Past Offerings