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Prepare for death, not 'death panels'
Think ahead about dying, but don't fear the 'death panels'

 Passions have run high at town-hall-style meetings held around the country to air views on health care reform.
Charles Dharapak/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 9/6/2009

AS A PHYSICIAN, I find it it extremely distressing to hear about the fear that some are trying to peddle in Washington about "death panels."

I have had the honor of helping my patients and their families navigate the process of dying, and the indignity of the national debate deserves some push-back. Talk of "death panels" bears no resemblance to the thoughtful way in which doctors and families engage in discussions surrounding end-of-life issues.

The only person who decides in what manner you will pass from this world is you, hopefully in conjunction with your family and doctor. The fear that someone will impose that decision upon you is baseless.

I and all of my colleagues in medicine took an oath to "do no harm." Physicians are an independent bunch, and will not be listening to any politicians when it comes to counseling our patients. However, rather than be angry, we can take this opportunity to talk about what the commotion is all about.

THE SQUIRM FACTOR

Dr. Nortin Hadler has written an extremely thought-provoking book, "Worried Sick," and in an amazing stroke of luck, I recently read it on the recommendation of a friend. I will quote Dr. Hadler: "Do you know when you want to die? If you could, would you choose the date? 'Never' is not an option; the death rate is one per person."

What a profound, yet simple and humbling way to put it--"the death rate is one per person."

In what manner would you like to die? Pretty powerful question, and likely to induce some fidgeting in even the most prepared individual.

I assume it is precisely that squirm factor that prevents physicians from asking the question as often as we should; prevents patients from raising the issue; and prevents families from having a discussion regarding living wills, health care power of attorneys and do-not-resuscitate orders.


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