Quantity of life … or quality?

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BJ Miller, a hospice doctor, says, “At the end of our lives, what do we most wish for? For many, it’s simply comfort, respect, and love.”

Yet the statistics show that most of us in our over-medicalized Western culture do not die that way. And it’s easy to see why.

Doctors are trained to keep us alive, There are a lot of treatments they can offer before giving in and saying the dreaded sentence, “There’s nothing more we can do.”

Now, let’s be clear. The blame doesn’t lie solely on the shoulders of doctors. We, the people who are offered these treatments, may not yet have come to terms with the fact that we will surely die sooner or later. In this mindset, we aim for quantity of life and lose sight of the quality of life we may really be aching for.

When we are uneasy about our inevitable death, we grasp at any possibility that’s offered to us. Yet, as Stephen Jenkinson says, the “more-time” bargain we make to avoid the end of life has consequences we never imagined.

Quality of life as we near the end…

To some degree, quality of life is subjective. But there are certain common threads. And that takes me back to  BJ Miller’s thought that at the end of our lives what we most wish for is comfort, respect, and love.

If you’ve ever experienced hospitalization, you’ll know that comfort, respect, and love are not their focus. Hospitals are geared toward making us better, whatever it takes—chest compression, powerful drugs, surgery, chemotherapy, and everything in between. But life-saving care is not what’s needed by a person at the end of life.

We need other places and other philosophies to guide end-of-life care.

BJ Miller is a palliative care physician who has dedicated his career to understanding how to provide a dignified, graceful end of life for his patients. This moving TED Talk asks us to consider—and perhaps reconsider—how we think about death, and how we honour life.

Your thoughts?