It’s a perfectly natural part of life, but somewhere along the way we’ve developed an unhealthy and sometimes cruel aversion to it. Not discussing imminent death only prolongs suffering for the patient and the family, while leaving many personal emotional issues unresolved.
According to a New York Times blog by Maggie Jones, even doctors struggle to talk about dying with their patients, and often fail to bring up the subject at all. As a consequence, patients suffer needless and often painful interventions at the end of their lives that can add thousands of dollars to a single patient’s medical costs with with no benefit.
We’ve got doctors who are uncomfortable with the subject, patients who don’t want to burden loved ones, family members who don’t want to upset the patient, and a group avoidance of the inescapable reality of death, a perfectly normal and natural event. Sure, it’s emotionally charged, but better to deal with it than to hide our heads in the sand.
Doctors owe it to their patients to be truthful, allowing families the opportunity to discuss end-of-life issues and settle important practical matters. Uncomfortable as the topic of death may be, it is not in the best interests of the family to hold on to a false hope. Nor is it a sign of weakness on the part the patient to accept the inevitable.
I’m all for hospitals and every life-saving technique they can employ, but there comes a point at which they can do more harm than good. I would hope that I can count of medical professionals to tell me when that time comes.
Watching a beloved family member endure painful medical interventions is one thing when you have hope of prolonging life in a meaningful way. It’s quite another when all hope is lost.
As for me, I’d rather face death with some dignity than to spend my last days pretending that it won’t happen to me. I prefer not to go out hooked up to machines in a sterile environment and enduring all manner of medical intervention to no avail. I prefer to know the truth and to deal with it appropriately.
End-of-life-choices have to come from a place of compassion and honesty from all parties. It’s too important to ignore. It’s a discussion we should all be having with our families… and our physicians.
Some excellent information on end-of-life issues can be found at Medline Plus, A Service of the U.S. Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.