Imagine that tomorrow you’re told you have 6 months left to live. You’ve got a terminal illness, and your time is limited. But isn’t there anything we can do? your family chimes in, there have to be treatment options left. But the physician delivering the news looks sad and certain. I’m afraid the condition has advanced beyond our control, they say calmly, further treatment at this point will be ineffective. Your fate is sealed.
Maybe you feel angry. After all the therapies and medications and visits to the hospital and medical bills accumulated, you still couldn’t overcome the disease. Or maybe you’re frightened. 6 months seems so short, how can this even be happening? Or maybe you came to terms with this possibility a while back, after multiple rounds of treatments your physician tried to stop you from worsening consistently failed. This could really happen, you had thought, I really might not survive this. And though you don’t want to die, you’ve come to accept that death comes for everyone at some point, and you can’t say no whenever it’s your time to go.
So what happens next? The disease combined with all of the things the doctors tried to make you healthy again have all but destroyed your body, and you spend most of your time lying in bed. Strong narcotics are needed to stave off the pain, and you require special care and interventions for everyday functions like eating and using the bathroom. Do you stay in the hospital, hooked up to various machines as you deteriorate and stay confined to the same room until your final breaths? Or do you decide to return home and receive hospice care, where the ultimate goal is not to keep you alive by whatever means possible, but instead to make the last of your life as comfortable and happy as possible?
The answer seems obvious. When you are nearing death, the goal of medicine should be to help ease the transition, not fight the inevitable. This type of care, called palliative care, makes the comfort of the patient first priority. Hospice care workers focus on easing the patient’s pain, keeping them as mentally aware as possible, and ensuring time with loved ones. The goal is to make peace with what is coming ahead, and enjoying life as much as possible until the end of it. If more people chose hospice care, I believe death would be a less grim and frightening and resisted experience. Modern medicine wants to drag your life out to the last possible moment, but to what end, if you aren’t even conscious for it?