Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Okay, I've been flacked

Got another one of those e-mails from publicists that pour into my in-box, due to the world dominating influence of Stayin' Alive. This is that one in a million that doesn't go to instant oblivion. Ken Murray, M.D. discusses the deaths of physicians in an on-line publication that purports to be the Saturday Evening Post. I don't know what this effort has to do with the original magazine that featured those famous Norman Rockwell covers, but be that as it may.

Dr. Murray's first point, which is actually quite well known but probably not by the general public, is that physicians are very unlikely to want heroic measures to extend their lives. And it's because they've seen plenty of futile and tortuous "care" administered to others. They know enough not to want it for themselves. He writes, "To administer medical care that makes people suffer is anguishing. Physicians are trained to gather information without revealing any of their own feelings, but in private, among fellow doctors, they’ll vent. “How can anyone do that to their family members?” they’ll ask."

But the real question he ponders is why, given that they know this, they do it anyway. In fact, they very often do it even when people have given orders that they don't want it. It has been shown in published studies that Do Not Resuscitate Orders, and other components of living wills, are quite frequently ignored. And even where families are left to make decisions, they don't often offer "do nothing, let nature take its course" as an option. He thinks that it has little to do with the chance to make money and more to do with cultural pressure and fear of legal peril. Maybe so.

As you will recall, the effort to include Medicare payment for counseling about end-of-life options in the Affordable Care Act was scuttled because of mindless fools, including a particularly vacuum-headed example from Alaska, started shrieking nonsense about death panels.  Well, please think about it anyway.

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