By Serge Kreutz

A few years ago, a nephew of mine died of an opiate overdose. Yes, my sister, whose son he was, was very grieved indeed. And she didn’t talk with me for many month after I told her that her grieve, of course, was selfish. She felt sorry for herself, not for her son.

By all we know about death from an overdose of opiates, he had a good death. Unintended, free of pain. Opiate overdoses are deadly because they suppress the respiratory center of the medulla in the brain stem. Basically, a person just forgets to breath, and feels no panic about this.

A rather famous German journalist with whom I covered Southeast Asia in the early 80s has died of cancer not long ago. The magazine he worked for, wrote that after he received the diagnosis, he retreated to a Himalayan hideout where he awaited death untreated, just meditating, leaving his family behind in Germany.

I don’t know whether the details are true or not. But I know that many cancers are very painful.

If I were ill with cancer, I would probably also prefer to await my end somewhere in the Himalayas. At least that’s a part of the world that still is very lenient about the use of opiates.

Maybe meditation, as well as medication, can help against cancer pain. But not if you start meditating after you were diagnosed with cancer. For meditation to work in lieu of pain medications, one would probably need a life-time of meditation practice, and the biological effect against cancer pain would still depend on morphine more precisely, in this case: endorphins, substances produced by the body, which are chemically almost identical to morphine.