HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wisdom from an Oncologist

I recently came across blog posts of James Salwitz, an oncologist. Reflecting on end of life issues, he had this to say

There are obstacles to dignity at the end of life.  Disease inflicted pain and debilitation, cost and confusion, poor planning and fear, all aggravated by our societal ignorance regarding dying, result in unneeded suffering and isolation.  

We barely have enough time to take care of our families and get through our normal day-to-day existence. We spend our lives sprinting from fast food restaurants, down high velocity freeways, to hectic jobs, through rushed relationships and finally grab too little sedated sleep, before we pick up the race again.  Gaps, during which we might reflect, are filled with electro-grout via high speed Internet in dozens of shades, be it email, tweet, face or video. We live without self-reflection, life contemplation or honest communication. . . . Therefore, when a complex medical problem occurs and we have not taken the time to prepare, we must make decisions while exhausted and frightened.

The social acceleration of time has wrecked many contemporary institutions.  Salwitz is wise to suggest that, at the most critical moments of the caring process, health policy should promote more opportunities to reflect.  We are too prone to think about informed consent doctrine (or clinical decision guides) as "slowing things down" in a negative way.  Salwitz helps us see the positive side of slow.


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