Generous Orthodoxy  




Monday, August 09, 2010

Death, dying, and hospice care

The best article I've ever read on the subject of death, dying, and hospice care was in last week's New Yorker. There are so many misunderstandings about hospice: it shortens life, it means giving up the "battle," it signifies lack of strength and purpose--even cowardice--in the face of death. These misapprehensions should be cleared up before the time arrives for decisions. Every thinking person needs to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" this article. As a member of the clergy I can testify that hospice care can mean the difference between a distressing, painful, even agonizing death (not only for the patient but also for the family), often in a hospital, and a tranquil, comfortable, humane passage, usually at home, surrounded not by tubes and beeping monitors but by warmly caring, yet unobtrusive, helpers who are highly skilled in ministering not only to the patient but also to the family and friends.

One of the greatest laments of hospice workers is that families tend to wait too long. If hospice care does not begin until a few days before death, its benefits are largely cancelled out. In order to benefit from its quiet, calming, beneficent ways, a family should consider engaging hospice many weeks or even months before death is anticipated. In one unusual recent case, known to me personally, the patient and her family benefitted from hospice care for two months and then--against all predictions--the patient did not die, but returned to a relatively normal life during a long remission. In another case, a hospice patient was able to go out--even to the theatre--during the period that he had hospice care before his death.

The wonderful article can be found at

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/02/100802fa_fact_gawande