Dying a “Good Death”

In many cases it comes down to the choice between quantity and quality: Do I want more days of life or do I want better days of life? For patients with a terminal diagnosis, this is often the question one must answer.

For family members, it may be unthinkable for mom or dad (or husband or wife) to stop receiving treatment that would keep them alive for a few months longer. But when treatment results in significant discomfort for the patient or when treatment is less and less effective in keeping a terminal condition at bay, the patient may choose to end aggressive treatment.

Two recent articles provide good insight into decisions made by patients to make the most of remaining time instead of pursuing medical treatment or procedures that might extend life, but might also make life less worthwhile.

Katy Butler wrote about her mother’s death in Saturday’s (September 7, 2013) Wall Street Journal. The article is adapted from Ms. Butler’s new book titled Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death. The article (which may be accessed by clicking HERE) points out that her mother “slept in her own bed until the night before she died. She was lucid and conscious to the end.”

Ms. Butler mentions in the article that research in California shows that “70% of state residents want to die at home.” She continues in her writing, “National polls have registered even higher proportions. But, in fact, nationally, less than a quarter of us do [die at home].”

Another article, published in June in the Indy Week newspaper in Durham, North Carolina, tells the story of a woman who chose quality over quantity. Regarding attitude changes toward death, Barry Yeoman writes, “Those who wanted to use feeding tubes or intensive chemotherapy still could. But patients could also opt out, and instead devote their last months to visiting with loved ones, pursuing enjoyable activities and tying up spiritual and material loose ends.”

In his article (which can be accessed by clicking HERE), Mr. Yeoman states, “acceptance [of death], when it happens, allows families to find meaning, and sometimes even sweetness, in a loss. It turns out that’s what many terminally ill people want.” His story of Sue Otterbourg’s final months may provide guidance to you and your family.

If a family member is dealing with a life-threatening illness, please call Hope Hospice at 314-984-9800. In our work with patients, our primary goal is patient comfort. We would be happy to talk to your and your family about the many elements of the care we provide to patients throughout metro St. Louis.


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