How Doctors Choose to Die (It’s Not Like The Rest of Us)

  The article I share below is one that I read and posted on Facebook many weeks ago.  Apparently, I wasn’t alone.  This article is one of the most shared and discussed on its topic over the past several years.   The author, Ken Murray, is a semi-retired physician living in California.  His topic- how he has anecdotally observed that doctors with terminal illnesses so frequently choose less interventionist care in their final months, not more- is eye-opening, especially for those of us who have had family members make a similar choice.

Here’s an excerpt:  “It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.”

You can read the article in its entirety here: http://zocalopublicsquare.org/thepublicsquare/2011/11/30/how-doctors-die/read/nexus/

The article was relevant for me because I had recently visited my stepfather Jim in Texas towards the end of his two-year battle with stomach & intestinal cancer.  After a year and a half of aggressive chemotherapy, Jim eventually opted for in-home hospice and palliative care, and then, finally, for a hospice facility.   Now, at 32, I’d like to think that I’d want to go “peacefully” if I were facing a terminal illness:  no life-prolonging treatments or machines if the biggest battles against whatever it was (cancer?) were already lost and my prognosis were certain and grim.    Of course, I can’t anticipate exactly how I’d feel in that moment.  Who can?

Thinking through these end-of-life care decisions and then recording our wishes in an Advance Directive (health care power of attorney) is a big step in the right direction.  Having an Advance Directive doesn’t mean we won’t change our minds about the care we’d want towards the end of our lives, especially if we are able to communicate our wishes at that time.  But it does mean that we have have thought through some of these tough decisions,  and that we have the beginning of a plan in place.

 

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