What Does It Mean to Die with Dignity?


“What does it mean to die with dignity?” was the basis for my guest article for the website I’m Sorry to Hear. It’s not a simple question to answer. Not only will it be different for every person, but the answer may change during the course of an illness. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article:

For some, it will mean trying every treatment possible to extend life. Others will opt to focus purely on comfort care earlier and work with their medical team to remain as comfortable as possible–even if it means being heavily sedated in their final days. And under the Vermont, Oregon, and Washington Death with Dignity laws, some will decide to have more control of the timing and manner of their deaths with the help of medication prescribed by their doctors.

Each option centers around one common theme: patient-centered care. This care model empowers patients and their doctors to work together to determine the most appropriate treatment options for each individual patient.

In the article, I describe how healthcare policy reform around Death with Dignity laws fits into the growing model of patient-centered care. These laws allow patients to work with their doctors to figure out what type of care they want to receive at the end of their lives, and the patients alone make the final decision about whether or when to hasten their deaths.

Just like any aspect of healthcare, these different care options don’t operate in isolation. Not only are doctors required to discuss other feasible care options such as hospice and palliative care, terminally ill people who exercise their rights under the states’ Death with Dignity laws also utilize other end-of-life care at a very high rate:

In 2012, 97% of the people who exercised their rights under Oregon’s law were also enrolled in hospice. By way of comparison, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization estimates 45% of deaths in the US are under the care of hospice.

So, what does it mean to die with dignity? Dying individual need to be giving the freedom to determine that answer for themselves, and doctors need to be able to have open and honest discussions about the different options.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

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