living your best to the end

Allow Natural Death

Dying, death and the evasive language we use


Euphemisms for dying and death abound. But what about the words used when telling someone – anyone – that death is near (‘near’ being a relative term). You’re dying may be the hardest words – right up there with ‘I’m sorry’ – which often follows, after the You’re dying.

Should someone ask outright: ‘Am I dying?’ or ‘Am I going to die?’ The answer (beyond an evasive ‘we’re all going to die someday’) is likely to provoke a torrent of emotions that most – including doctors – don’t have the resources to weather. They’d rather hedge.

This understandable evasion can create all kinds of confusion and mixed messages around decisions long before determining if you do or do not want to be revived, should your heart or breathing stop.

When a (surely well-meaning, if possibly mis-guided) healthcare professional, who likely knows your days are limited, says something like:

  • Why don’t we just get more blood-work done
  • Why don’t we see if we can’t beat this infection with this new drug.
  • The options are more surgery or more radiation..
  • You aren’t able to swallow any more, why don’t we give you a feeding tube
  • Your 91-year old mother is having trouble breathe on her own, we can give her

Answers to these questions are often anything but straightforward – often trading one set of awful for another.

There comes a time when the rightest thing to do is stop any further treatment toward getting anyone up to any kind of up and at ‘em. From Dr Ken Murray‘s article, How Doctors Die, seems many a doctor puts this philosophy into practice for their own End:

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. …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.”

There’s new language that’s supposed to say, No More! Allow Natural Death.

But what is a ‘Natural Death’?

What happens when Nature isn’t up to the task of controlling pain, anxiety, agitation, insomnia, itchiness and delirium?

That’s when you need to call upon that other word, that needlessly strikes fear in the heart: Palliative Care. Which is better named Comfort Care – since its philosophy is to take care of our emotional, social, spiritual needs – along with physical comfort..

What do you think of this language: Allow Natural Death with Comfort Care.

 Suggested Reading: In Palliative Care, doing nothing is not an option