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Dying Well Means Dying at Home

Dying Well Means Dying at Home

Photo: ©Juan R. Valasco-Shutterstock

COMMENTARY

Count no man happy until his end is known.
—Herodotus

This was true in ancient Greece 2500 years ago. It is even more true today—aggressive end-of-life hospital care, the lack of sufficient palliative care, and unduly restrictive assisted suicide laws make it impossible for most people to die with dignity.

There is no worse death than a hospital death. Dying well means dying at home. This requires preparation, and preparation requires recognizing that dying is a necessary—and indeed desirable—part of life.

The ancient Greeks understood the value of death. Aurora, goddess of the dawn, falls deeply in love with a mortal man and successfully prevails upon the gods to grant him immortality. But Aurora carelessly forgets to request also that he be granted the additional gift of perpetual youth. Cursed to live forever in a progressively diminished and painful state, his only unfulfillable wish is the death that is proper to the human condition.

Moral of story: none of us can ever cheat death and instead should strive for a good death that occurs at the proper time and in the proper place.

Doctors understand how impossible it is to have a good death when life is unnaturally prolonged under the horrible conditions that characterize our hospitals.

Hospital deaths are lonely and fearful; tubes invade your body and monitors constantly bing; the environment is frantic, noisy, indifferent, brightly lit, and sleepless. You die among strangers with little chance to say goodbye to loved ones.

Most doctors protect themselves by preparing a simple living will that restricts “heroic” medical measures and requests a peaceful death at home. You can download a free model for your own use at https://www.rocketlawyer.com/form/living-will.rl (link is external).

Preparing for a good death may be one of the best decisions you will ever make in your life. Surveys indicate that most patients say they also want to die at home, but only a small fraction ever realize this reasonable wish.

Once the ambulance is called, the chain reaction of modern medical mayhem becomes inevitable. There is a simple alternative. The terminally ill should be given palliative care at home (best done through Hospice), rather than going to the hospital.

Not only more pleasant and dignified, palliative care at home paradoxically also provides for greater longevity—perhaps because it reduces the substantial risks of medical mistakes and hospital superbug infections. In death, as in life, less is often more.

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