Doctors don't die like the rest of us. What's unusual about the way doctors die is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. In a February 8, 2012 article written by Ken Murray for The Guardian he talks about how the death of a doctor differs from that of the average American.
Of course,doctors want to live. But they know enough about today’s medicine to know its limits. There are two things people fear most: dying in pain, and dying alone.Doctors talk openly about these things with their families. They want to be sure that no heroic measures are taken to prolong their life when they enter the terminal phase.
Almost all doctors have seen "futile care" being performed on people. That's when medicine brings the latest technology to bear on a terminally ill person near the end of life. The patient will be kept alive with artificial means to preserve and prolong their life often against what they might choose, but rather to placate the family that everything humanly possible is being done.This care normally occurs in the intensive care unit at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day.
In my book, Soul Service: A Hospice Guide to theEmotional and Spiritual Care for the Dying (Balboa Press, 2013) www.soulservice.info the topic of futile care is addressed. The best way to prevent futile care from occurring in the first place is to take preventative measures against it. This starts with the frank discussion with the dying person’s family members around the wishes of the patient, not just the family’s wishes to continue life at all costs.
Some of the basic steps anyone can take is to have a do not resuscitate order (DNR). This is accepted by doctors and hospitals all over the U.S. Also, a living will/advanced directives will provide written instructions to be followed if you are not able to make those decisions for yourself.
Often families find it difficult to even open up the subject of death and dying with a terminal loved one. A meeting with all family members present should be encouraged to facilitate open and honest communication with end-of-life care issues.
A current case in point is former South African President Nelson Mandela who at 94 years of age has been hospitalized for over five weeks. According to an article in the Mail and Guardian, a respected South African newspaper, Mandela does not have a living will, meaning that end-of-life care decisions could be left up to his fractured family. Mandela is being assisted with mechanical breathing, medical support that may be required the rest of his life. According to Helena Dolny, who is currently writing a three part series in the Johannesburg paper called “Let’s talk about dying”, she wrote that Mandela is giving South Africa a “precious parting gift” by spurring a conversation about death. I would agree with her that the gift of more open discussion on death and dying is a long overdue one here in America as well.
Fostering the good death experience requires that one be able to face the inevitable facts that all of us are terminal. Remembering the basics of having a good death one cannot go wrong. A good death should be pain free, peaceful and family dynamics are in order.