A Matter of Life and Death

Recently I attended a medical conference that explored the agency, role, and responsibilities of the physician “at the end of life”. Doctors from different parts of the country came to the meeting but those who practice in states with “Physician-Assisted Death” statutes had singular stories to tell. My own focus as a family doctor, who has taken care of people “from the lying-in to the laying out” (a phrase from Charles Dickens) is that we need to honor death as a part of life.

We must be careful as medical professionals, and as a human community, not to “overdo” what we do to those nearing the end of their mortal existence. A sentence that clarifies my mind is: “Where are we going with this?” Which means that a woman with end-stage dementia is not best served in the ICU; and a man who is dying from cancer no longer needs a cholesterol medicine and labs drawn. People need their doctors to shine a light into darkness even as the candle of life is burning down.

Rule #7–“‘Til Death Do Us Part”—in my book, Sacred Trust: The Ten Rules of Life, Death, and Medicine”, speaks to this issue. As does my poem, “Attending”.

What are your thoughts?