What should medicine do?

                For the entire twenty-four years of my life thus far, I have been under the assumption that hospitals and intensive care units were places used exclusively for helping with the recovery process.  But after reading “Letting Go” by Atul Gawande, my perspectives have shifted quite dramatically.

The story is centered on Sara, who is diagnosed with a terminal lung cancer.  The doctors who are assigned to treat her give her many different medications and treatments, and even more unnecessary false hopes for recovery.  The doctor in this story seems to be compassionate about his patients and what he does for them; however, if he had just been blunt about her prognosis, she probably would have been spared a decent amount of painful chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

So what should medicine do if it doesn’t save your life?  The answer to that is in the same story.  It should provide comfort so you can live the remainder of your days, weeks, or months as peacefully as possible.  I highly support the work that is done by hospices and palliative care centers.  The thought of a hospice may be dreadful to most people, but their job is to provide quality of life over quantity of life.  Medication should also be used to benefit the families of the terminally ill, giving them enough time to say their last words and be less devastated by the loss.

As stated in the story, death used to be a short-lived event.  In Sara’s case, just like many others, it has become a process.  We do not want to stop administering the medications because it would destroy us to lose a loved one; but instead, we watch them slowly suffer and die. As quoted directly from the story: “In the previous three months, almost nothing we’d done to Sara … had likely achieved anything except to make her worse. She may well have lived longer without any of it. At least she was spared at the very end.” This is the case in many scenarios—and we should seriously consider easing the suffering of our loved one to make dying easier.

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3 thoughts on “What should medicine do?

  1. Your response to Letting Go was well done and I could personally relate to your ideas towards the healthcare system prior to reading this. Hospice does carry a negative connotation because of the lack of education. I agree the doctors in this article took great care and held compassion for their patients. It would be an extremely tough power to have dealing with terminally ill people. Who is to know when to give up on treatments, especially with hopeful and brave patients
    Medication should make for a happier ending at the end of life. Not only for the individual to be as comfortable as possible but for the family. Sara’s family watched her struggle, taking her last breath fighting to be able to live. I still feel her last days of struggle could have been spared without all of the numerous treatment but who was to know a miracle could have shrunk her cancer?

  2. In your post, I really like how you talked about how dying has become a process because of the treatments and medications administered. This is something that I agree with as well. Before all of these treatments and medications, death was still a process in the cases of some terminal illnesses however, previously it was much shorter. Today, the process can be less painful which I think is a plus but in the end, it is all about quality instead of quantity which is a point you brought up with hospice care that I also liked.

  3. For terminally-ill patients, I agree that their medicine should provide comfort and high-quality of life. In any situation, if the patient had the slightest chance of recovery, they should continued therapy and treatments. When the medicine fails to effectively help the patient, then the treatments should stop. However, for doctors, and even the patient and their family, as well, sometimes it is hard to pinpoint when there is no going back. It’s not like Sara was pushed to accept the treatment; she agreed to keep going in the hope that she would become better soon. It is rather unfortunate that medical costs are high. The treatments did not treat her. I feel that families should get compensation for medicinal failures if they promised a successful treatment.

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