I just finished watching a preview of Facing Death, an hour-long PBS documentary to be aired on November 23. The film charts the agonizing trajectory of four very sick people — and their loved ones and care givers — from the intensive care unit and last-ditch operations to their inevitable deaths.
Now I sit at the keyboard: sweating and troubled by questions that I’d rather avoid. What is a good death? Increasingly sophisticated gadgets and therapies can keep people alive for weeks and months, even when their underlying illness is beyond repair. I wonder: will I be capable of saying, “Let me die”? or will I cling to the hope that an experimental procedure or drug trial will rescue me? And who will decide when I’m unable to do so for myself: my friends, proxy, distant brothers, technology, politicians, ethicists, insurance companies? And what of quality of life: when does prolonged life become prolonged suffering — for myself and those at my bedside?
Please do yourself a favour and watch www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/facing-death/. Then talk to those who you’d like to honour your wishes when the time comes … unless, of course, you’re not going to die, ever.
p.s. do you have a Living Will or Representation Agreement, appointed a Health Care Proxy or Medical Power of Attorney? Find out what’s required in your jurisdiction.