A Better Ending

A few months ago, I was waiting for the subway and ad caught my eye. It was an invitation to free lectures as part of a “Harvard Mini-Med School.”

I had never been to a free medical lecture before. Hence, an addition to the birthday list. All four of the lectures sounded interesting, but my schedule only allowed for me to attend one: A Better Ending: A New Beginning for the End of Life.

This is a hot topic for me right now, so I was really looking forward to this lecture. My interest in end-of-life care piqued last fall, when I saw Atul Gawande talk about his 2014 book, Being Mortal. In his book, he discusses the necessary shift in thinking that doctors must undertake. In medical school, students are taught to save lives. Whatever happens, they have to do everything in their power to save a person’s life.

But what if treatment after treatment brings unnecessary pain and suffering to the patient? What if the patient just wants to be comfortable in their last days and doesn’t want to endure another operation or round of drugs? What if quality of life is more important than length of life?

Doctors are now being trained and encouraged to ask terminally ill patients what is important to them. Patients are being given control in how their final days play out.

Simultaneously, there is a movement to encourage people to talk about their wishes for end-of-life care with loved ones, even before they become ill. It’s stressful enough dealing with crisis or illness when you know your loved one’s wishes regarding artificial nutrition, mechanical ventilation, CPR, etc. When you don’t know, it must be torturous.

The Conversation Project is a wonderful resource to help you start “the conversation” with loved ones.

I didn’t take notes during the lecture, so I don’t remember any of the interesting stories and research that was shared, except for Dr. Angelo Volandes‘s video library that he is creating “not to train doctors, but to train patients.” The videos explain how patients can go about discussing their goals of care with their doctors.

I printed out the resources from the lecture that are posted on the website and found them very helpful. I also highly recommend Atul Gawande’s book!

These conversations are difficult to have but really important. If people can face their mortality and think about and share their end-of-life goals with their doctors and loved ones, they are ensuring peace and comfort for themselves as well as their loved ones.

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