How far would you go to sustain the life of someone you love, or your own?
This is the tag line for a feature by PBS Frontline called Facing Death which looks at the complex issues around end-of-life care. I just finished watching it, and I am completely heavy-hearted for the patients and families featured in the documentary, and utterly amazed at the honesty and compassion demonstrated by the Physicicans.
This documentary brings to light the advances in medical care and medical treatments, that are able to prolong life and support the functions of the body in ways that would have been considered science fiction not-so-many years ago. Along with these advances comes the difficult junction of making decisions about continuing, or discontinuing these treatments that are indeed life saving. These decisions often having to be made by people (often family members) who may or may not know the wishes of the person who’s life is at risk. It really shows the sense of responsibility on the healthcare-decision maker, being as they are often making life or death decisions, and decisions that affect their loved ones quality of life….ones that have real uncertainty as to if these decision are considered “right,” and if so, or not, by who’s standard?
What I loved about the feature, is that it exemplified the fact that no one wants to die. And, no one wants a loved one to die. And, especially, no one wants to die badly. Yet, due to advances in medicine we can be put in the position where we have to weigh the risk of death against the risk of treatment, and degree of suffering created in both cases…and, not just for the patient alone, but for family members and loved ones, who have to live with the decision made either way.
There is a really honest look at the fear around death – you can see it in the eyes of the people in the documentary. The fear of uncertainty, the fear of giving up, the fear of losing hope. When it really comes down to “it” is there any conversation or decision that is enough? Any conversation that won’t be felt to be unfinished when you are making decision that are so uncertain in outcome, and so full of, “what ifs?”
After a death, what about the surviving loved ones, who may wonder if the right choice was made?
Unfortunately, there was no chronicle on the sequelae of events after decisions were made, and patients inevitably died. It would be interesting to have a follow up piece on how this decision making responsibility can impact someones experience of grief…to look at how the survivors view their role in their loved one’s life and in their death. Undoubtedly having the experience of either prolonged medical treatment to slow or reverse a disease, or the sudden invasive treatments that are often done in ICU to save and sustain a life, bleed into the survivors experience of how they remember their loved ones, last interactions, and perceived quality of life and level of suffering endured.
The documentary spoke about the monetary cost of end-of-life care, and in my heart of hearts I wondered about the emotional and psychological cost incurred by the loved ones who have to continue living after decisions were made, and their loved one has died…and to that end, why is it that the outcome of death somehow seems to be viewed as the wrong decision or in some way inevitable?
Facing Death can be viewed here.