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Death isn't our enemy

November 22, 2017


In a thought provoking blog Dr. James C. Salwitz explains why needless suffering, and not death our enemy.


Using real patient stories Dr. James shows why it is important for doctors to "get it", the mortality of human body.

Many a doctor don't “get it." They act as if they do not realize that everyone dies. They completely fail to provide merciful, honest care and instead has set up a plan to maximize suffering, compound confusion, amplify futile intervention and guarantee out-of-control costs that will bankrupt the family. While the patient and family bear the responsibility for key life decisions, the “healer” has set up a ridiculous, unethical and incredibly common system of care.


Other doctors are just beginning to “get it.” This rapidly expanding group is the basis for the increasing use of expert end-of-life consults. They are halfway there; they understand that everyone dies, but are not sure what to do about it.


A doctor who “gets it,  when he discovers that a patient has a lethal disease, leads a serious and frank discussion: Is there a line you would not cross? Is there therapy you do not want? For example, would you want to be put on a breathing machine or have CPR? This is your decision, and we will support whatever path you follow, but it is important that you consider your choices.


“Getting it,” means that patients receive the honesty, confidence, and respect to control their own lives. Not false hope, but the chance to cope with one of the hardest realities of life.


“It is your life. As your doctor, my job is to guide, not order or command. It is about you, not me.”


With the increasingly complex, confusing, and expensive nature of medical care, it is more important than ever that doctors “get it.”  They must accept that the enemy is not death; the enemy is needless suffering. They must understand the limits of their role. They must appreciate and respect the strength of their fellow man and the rights of every patient to choose their destiny.


The final part of life is about being alive, not about death. Only by seizing those precious moments, deciding our own fate, can we hope for quality, comfort, and dignity.


(James C. Salwitz is an oncologist who blogs at Sunrise Rounds.)


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