Author: Carol

The Public Shame of Public Death

The Public Shame of Public Death

Letters to the Editor: Gas prices. Homelessness. This is why Republicans might win the 2016 election.

The recent discovery of a dead body at a San Diego airport is the latest in a litany of deaths of persons who had been in the public eye as public figures.

In recent days, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about the discovery of the body, with details that had previously been kept secret. How can we learn the story behind any of these stories, if the public has not been consulted? Where did the story originate if there is a dispute?

These questions are not easy to answer. We try to respond to the questions, but sometimes we get caught in the middle of the controversy.

The Times reported that a man had been taken to the emergency room for an illness unrelated to his death. Why did they withhold the name of the deceased? Was he a celebrity? Was he a congressman who had been visiting San Diego? Was he someone of public interest? What was his occupation? Why was the death kept secret until now?

For the public to have to be told to wait, for the public to be left in the dark, for the news to have to be kept from the public, and for the name of the dead person to remain secret – that is a form of public shaming.

Public officials who try to find out why this person was so public – people we may admire, hold in high respect, or like or respect – then we become complicit in his or her death, as if we have a duty to keep his or her death a secret so that we may honor the people we knew.

At the same time, we may feel the shame that our loved ones are reduced to a body in a hospital that is a place for sick people, not just celebrities or politicians. The family is told that to know who the dead person was, and how he or she died, would change the way they would handle the news.

Those who try to find out are often labeled “liberal” because they are trying to find out how

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