Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why We Need to Talk About Death and Dying

I work with the elderly. People often take a horrifically long time to die, though it's clear that nothing can be done for them. At 88 years old, my paternal grandmother was diagnosed with leukemia (though the increase in white blood cells was probably a response to the other things that were going on in her body) and the doctors aggressively pushed for chemotherapy. She refused. She said that at 88 she was not going through chemotherapy. She had horrible osteoporosis and could not sit up straight. She eventually was diagnosed with breast cancer, which metastasized over the course of a few years to her liver. But the cancer is not what killed her. The fact that her spine was so curved that it compressed her lungs so she could never take a full breath caused her to have several bouts of pneumonia each year. It was the pneumonia that killed her.

It always seemed insane to me that rather than discussing the options in an objective fashion, the doctors' first thought was to engage in aggressive chemotherapy for a severely disabled 88 year old. I think this is because they don't want the failure of death on their record, even if the person is coming close to that mark anyway.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost