A Physician Speaks About Death And Dying

When I originally came up with the idea of this journal, I thought of it as a place to share my own thoughts, beliefs, and experiences about hospice care – I didn’t want it to become a catalog of links to other people’s words and ideas.  But I came across an article recently that expressed so many of my ideals and beliefs so clearly, and so eloquently, that I need to share it.


The article is about a cancer surgeon who took on the challenge of educating himself, his patients, and his colleagues about death, dying, and the choices and experiences around that process.  And I am both moved and heartened by his words.

In particular, the point that resonates most with me is his point that so many people, both medical professionals and patients, perceive the choice between aggressive treatment of disease and palliative care as a choice between fighting and giving up, and the efforts in the hospice field to re-frame this as a choice between two different fights – fighting the disease itself or fighting to lead as good a life as possible for as long as possible.

It’s also important that the medical profession is starting to acknowledge the sobering fact that, ultimately, doctors are neither trained nor paid to discuss end-of-life choices with their patients.  This is true for veterinarians as well as MD’s.  I was lucky to have a mentor who encouraged me to seek out as much training in this area as I could, and to attend a vet school that had an excellent Pet Loss Support program, but many of my colleagues haven’t had those opportunities.  Luckily, it seems like medicine in general is starting to recognize that these skills are incredibly important, and to value them as much as we value surgical skills and diagnostic savvy.

Ultimately, this is just a brilliant and emotionally moving piece, and I hope that you all find it as powerful as I did.