When enough is enough
If asked ‘how do you want to die?’, many of us would probably say at home, without too much pain and surrounded by our nearest and dearest. Yet advances in medicine mean some of us may spend our final hours hooked up to machines in an intensive care unit, barely conscious and faraway from our families and the comforting familiarity of home.
Is this what we really want? It’s a question that’s being asked more and more as the population ages and medical technology continues to develop at an extraordinary pace. Dr Charlie Corke is an intensive care specialist and in this interview expresses his concern that as a society we have forgotten how to die.
In his 25 years on the job, Corke says he’s seen enormous changes. Once elderly patients in their 80s and 90s died at home. Now large numbers of them do so in hospital where doctors succeed in “prolonging and complicating” their death.
Corke says the problem is that as medical technology has improved, our faith in its ability to defeat death has surpassed what’s reasonable. Consequently when a loved one ends up in intensive care, families find it hard not to insist that everything possible be done to keep them alive, even if this goes against the wishes of the person receiving treatment, assuming their wishes have been previously articulated.
According to Corke, too few of us have the important conversations we need to before our rendez-vous with the grim reaper. Nor do we think to appoint a decision maker. “Families are like a committee so picking a good decision maker is important.
“It’s trying to work towards a degree of certainty, discussing [your wishes] many times, reassuring [your loved ones] that it’s what you want even if it’s difficult, that they don’t have to keep you alive to show they love you.”
And no, talking about your inevitable demise isn’t morbid and depressing. In fact, thinking about and discussing your mortality can be surprisingly liberating.