Medicine and EOL

What should medicine do when it can’t save your life?  It’s a tough question to answer when you think of the grey area that tends to lie between life and death.  There are so many circumstances that pose challenges because they don’t fit the typical mold.  They have extenuating circumstances that blur the lines of what we often believe we want.  These special circumstances lead us to question our initial wants. 

A great example of this comes from the TV series Grey’s Anatomy. In season one a retired scrub nurse that graced the operating rooms of Seattle Grace for decade’s returns; but this time as a patient.  Her case is assigned to Dr. Cristina Yang who lacks a patient centered approach.  Dr. Yang, who is known for her love of surgical procedures, deems it necessary to prolong the life of the scrub nurse for as long as possible.  While our quantity of life is important it’s also equally critical to realize the impact that our quality of life has on other aspects of our time.    Many of us don’t want our last moments to be spent in an unfamiliar setting such as a hospital room.  In addition, most of us fear becoming a burden to our family.  I have included a video clip that shows that some of us prefer to ‘let go’ and appreciate the quality of our last days; while others prefer to have more quantity instead.

This idea leads us back to our original question.  If medical intervention cannot save our life, shouldn’t it be used to provide as much comfort and relief as possible to our last days?  If we know that medical intervention can no longer offer a positive outcome it should serve as a tool to make the duration of our existence as tolerable as possible.  It should ease our suffering and pain in our last moments and allow us to enjoy what matters most.

This issue leads us to more questions.  Should we attempt to stave off inevitable death which leads to incurring massive amounts of hospital bills?  Shouldn’t we consider that extending our lives beyond their normal capacity creates a burden on our families? Is the care worth it when you know you or your loved one will not survive?  Questions like these make us question common healthcare practices.  These circumstances also force us recognize that sometimes we’re preventing the inevitable. 

Forrest Gump-Goodbye Jenny

 

 

Media portrays death and dying in a variety of different contexts.  Sometimes death is portrayed as a peaceful ending to a long and happy life.  Other times death may involve a loved one that lost their battle to cancer at an inconceivable age.  The latter, is the circumstance that we are presented with in the motion picture Forrest Gump.

            When Forest Gump was released I was a young child and had yet to experience the death of a loved one.  While there are multiple scenes in the movie that address death; I can remember relating to one scene in particular.  The scene where Forrest visits Jenny’s grave is a powerful scene regarding the death of loved one.  I think that this particular scene provides a helpful representation of the grieving process.  It seems as though it would be more effective at representing death than other scenes because it appeals to both children and adults.  It also helps us grasp the notion that death is constant and universal.

            I think this scene is also effective at displaying how society deals with death.  The fact that Forrest has Jenny buried in a meaningful place illustrates his love and compassion toward her.  Upon further thought it’s easy to realize that burying a loved one under the privacy of a tree allows Forrest to privately deal with his emotions regarding Jenny’s death.  This demonstrates a common ritual in our society that allows us to cope with loss.  We tend to deny the death of our loved ones on a daily basis.  We go about our routines and only grieve and deal with our emotions when we are ready to confront them by visiting a loved one’s grave or a place of significance.  Hence, burying our dead in a place where we feel comfortable grieving; a place where we tend to have privacy.    

            In conclusion, media has the ability to influence both our life and death.  It affects how we grasp the concepts regarding death.  In addition, it affects how we handle the situation.  Although we tend to be a death denying culture, media has a profound influence on us.