HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Death Without Dignity

Ezra Klein points us toward a post by Andrew Kline about his father and his father's cancer.  Mr. Kline writes about his frustration and concern he experiences as he deals with the medical treatment his father has received.  He provides a moving statement that may sound familiar to those who have experience when dealing with end-of-life situations at the hospital.  He states,

I'm back home, a thousand miles away from my father. But he had another setback, and he is back in the main hospital.

I am not expecting any miracles. I know that the clock has been ticking ever since his cancer diagnosis. My frustration is with trying to get the system to share my goals. . . . .  Similarly, what I want for my father is the best possible combination of dignity, lucidity, and absence of pain. The operative word is possible, because what is attainable is limited. Moreover, there are trade-offs among these goals.

But what you deal with are people who are doing their job. For example, the cardiologist's job is to make sure his heart does not give out, even if it means he lies on his back for so long that the prospects for restoring diginity recede. Everyone wants to shunt him around, giving him more Hansonian medicine, which detracts from his ability to remain lucid.

For the larger goal of trying to do the best with his remaining life, nobody is in charge and nobody is empowered. Particularly in that big hospital. I'll probably be back there soon, but I don't know what medical decisions would best serve our goals and I don't know how to get the system to work for us.

I hope that he finds his answers.

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