living your best to the end

Death and doctors who don’t want to talk about it

What happens when patients want to talk about death, but their doctors don’t? My 94 year-old father-in-law was relieved and delighted when I brought forth the subject of medical directions, in the event he couldn’t speak for himself. My brother in law – a paramedic – brought a standard Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) form. Although written in largely incomprehensible language for a mere non health care professional, I took it upon myself to discuss more than just the decision to resuscitate – shocking his heart back to life. He was right on board with ‘no heroic measures’ – and even more adamant when he understood what ‘heroic’ and ‘measures’ meant in the context of his quality of life.This form required signature from a doctor, so he brought it to his next regular visit to his long-time family doctor. His doctor was aghast. “Who put you up to this? I’m not going to sign this. I don’t think this is what you’d want.” What?! Not an isolated incident, as I’ve discovered. I’ve been conducting informal interviews with healthcare professionals of all stripes about their reaction to not initiating or discontinuing life-prolonging interventions. This includes supplemental feeding (Feeding Tubes) breathing (ventilators and tracheostomies) and dialysis. It’s as if you’ve asked them to condone murder. It’s as if you’ve asked them what they’d want for themselves.. Often these are the same healthcare professionals who purport to want to follow patients wishes, but who try to talk their patients out of their wishes. “If I do that, you know what it will lead to.” Well, yes. It’ll lead to the death, but possibly...