I read this article today on dying with dignity. It was about a center for Catholic Nuns, who are surrounded by fellow nuns and priests, choosing to die without much medical intervention. A topic whose time has come as baby-boomers enter their senior years. It is fraught with misunderstanding and potholes. Not the least of which is the fear of "killing old people", and not providing health care based on age. But the fact is that millions of very old people are put through tortuous tests and procedures at the end of life, without any alternative. We simply have not thought through the medicalization of the dying process. It is a huge drain on our health care system, and the results are always the same. No one is going to get out alive.
So what to do?
Well, for one, we need to educate ourselves on what a "good death" would look like. Hospice is a wonderful program, but I think what is needed is more information before we get to the end stages of life. Maybe we need to look at it from a life-span perspective. A part of life, just as important as the mid-life or child-bearing age. Actually train people, as part of a curriculum, to be care-providers for only this stage of life. We have full course studies on early childhood, maybe we could do the same with end-of-life issues. Maybe we could provide beautiful centers, complete with music, outdoor areas, large windows to look at beautiful landscapes, massage, acupuncture, spiritual advisers, entertainment, intellectual stimulation, and most of all understanding of the process of dying. Taking away all the procedures and medications, not used for pain control, should free up money for these centers. We also need to keep people home when we can. Let them be surrounded by what they know and the people they love. Dying doesn't have to be the fearful, painful process it has become. It can be a time to celebrate a life well-lived. We just need to learn how to do it.