Medicine often plays a role in prolonging life, whether it’s through vaccines, antibiotics or preventative tests. But what should medicine & those in the medical field do when it no longer becomes possible to prolong a patient’s life? The article Letting Go discusses the options and the difficulties that patients and their families are faced with when those questions need to be asked.
People are ill prepared to make these decisions when it comes to themselves or to their loved ones. The article gives a glimpse of how people rationalize aggressive options toward their diseases. Preventative surgery, experimental drugs, harsh chemotherapy, all of these are considered and it’s tough to know when to draw the line and say enough is enough. Doctors and patients have this problem. Doctors may find it challenging to confront the patient’s illness even if they know the outcome. These are conversations that need to occur for the benefit of the patient and the doctor. The patient cannot begin to accept their mortality if they don’t fully realize the extent of their illness. Patients need to be kept fully informed and it falls on the doctors shoulders to do so. We won’t be able to move forward past a death denying culture if all we do at the end of life is deny our lives. Doctors ought to accept a formal responsibility and a rationality that no matter how much they train and how much they know, even death can’t be prevented. This isn’t to say that no doctors or patients out there realize this and understand that these things are true. But there is a problem in the health system of doctors recommending care that is no longer truly necessary for the terminally ill.
One of the best options for someone suffering from a terminal illness is to manage the pain effectively. When you’ve reached the point in your life where you’re choosing between enjoying the last few days/weeks/months what have you and spending the time in a cold sterile room patients may opt to spend that time surrounded by their loved ones instead of in a clinical setting. These decisions can often come too little too late, as was almost the case for Sara. However in the end she was able to be with her family and die peacefully.
When medicine can no longer fix, it should manage.