How will you face death? Ken Murray, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, recently wrote a thought-provoking essay, How Doctors Die, comparing how doctors approach end-of-life decisions to how an average layman does.
It’s a very thought-provoking piece; I strongly urge you to take five minutes to read it.
Here are some excerpts.
What’s unusual about [doctors] is not how much treatment they get… 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.
Of course, doctors don’t want to die; they want to live. But they know enough about modern medicine to know its limits. And they know enough about death to know what all people fear most: dying in pain, and dying alone…
Almost all medical professionals have seen what we call “futile care” being performed on people. That’s when doctors bring the cutting edge of technology to bear on a grievously ill person near the end of life. The patient will get cut open, perforated with tubes, hooked up to machines, and assaulted with drugs. All of this occurs in the Intensive Care Unit at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. What it buys is misery we would not inflict on a terrorist. I cannot count the number of times fellow physicians have told me, in words that vary only slightly, “Promise me if you find me like this that you’ll kill me.”