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How Doctors Die

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 • by Sarah Whitman-Salkin

Do doctors die differently than the rest of us? Maybe.

Yesterday over at BoingBoing, editor Xeni Jardin shared an essay about the approach many doctors take toward end-of-life care. The article, by Dr. Ken Murray (a Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at USC), looks at the widespread delivery of overtreatment, or "futile care," to patients at the end of life, and how many doctors choose not to undergo these types of final—and often ineffective—treatments themselves. Dr. Murray writes:

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.

Why don't we all "go gently," following in the course that many doctors themselves believe in? "The trouble is that even doctors who hate to administer futile care must find a way to address the wishes of patients and families," Dr. Murray writes.

So what can we do to die more like our doctors? We can think about the types of end-of-life treatments available to us, create the legally binding documents to ensure we receive the treatment we want, and communicate with our families about our decisions. Dr. Murray's advice: "If there is a state of the art of end-of-life care, it is this: death with dignity. As for me, my physician has my choices. They were easy to make, as they are for most physicians. There will be no heroics, and I will go gentle into that good night."

via BoingBoing (via Zócalo Public Square)