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Dying with dignity means more than assisted suicide

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Published on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 by BY PAM STEVENS | EDITOR

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How do you want to die? In the days of healthcare reform and the death and dignity law, it’s a legitimate question.
Watching one set of grandparents hooked up to machines, in and out of hospitals with numerous amounts of tests run on them, and then dying anyway was excruciating.  While we “got to say goodbye”, tubes and other medical devices kept them from saying anything back.

In contrast, the other set of grandparents both died quickly and almost painlessly. Grandpa died in his sleep and Grandma suffered a heart attack and was gone almost instantly. I envy their deaths and my hope is that when it is my turn, I will go like they did. I also wish this for my parents.

After hearing a report on CBS’s 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago entitled, “The Cost of Dying”, these thoughts once again came to the surface.

Currently, Medicare spends over $50 billion (more than on education) in the last two months of patients’ lives here in the United States. Twenty to 30 percent of that has “no meaningful impact”.
It begs the question, why do we spend so much money on trying to save those who will die within weeks anyway?
On top of that, 75 percent of people die in hospitals or nursing homes. How many of us truly want to live the last days and weeks of our lives this way?

As healthy human beings, how many of us would really choose to have tubes running throughout our bodies, not being able to speak and being poked and prodded by dozens of doctors and nurses over going home or to hospice care and dying with some form of dignity?

As the 60 Minutes report explains, medical care is not something that customers are cost conscious about. While most of us try to save money on food, clothing and household supplies, when it comes to healthcare costs, we just let the government or health insurance companies worry about it.

This mentality has helped in creating an out-of-control system, especially when it comes to end of life costs.
Add to that the miracles of modern medicine and the fact that hospitals don’t want to be held liable for not “doing everything they can” to prevent someone’s death, and we now have a system where billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on what ends up being unnecessary procedures.

The saddest part may be that family and friends have to watch all of this happening to their loved one and with time constraints on doctors, they aren’t able to spend much time with families to really understand what their family member would want.

We are all mortal, which means we will all eventually die. Let’s have the conversation about what procedures we want done in order to extend our life and which we don’t.

Doctors and families need to take the time to discuss what is absolutely necessary and what will only end up lining the pockets of hospitals and do nothing to increase our quality or length of life.


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