How to Die a Good Death

4.7/5 - (82 votes)

Hospice is often framed as “giving up,” but, ironically, hospice patients sometimes actually live longer

Discuss
Republish

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

We have all sorts of detailed stats about dying, but little about the experience of death. For the minority who die under the care of palliative care teams, one’s death could probably be described as good. But there’s a suspicion that for the majority who die in hospitals or nursing homes, the experience is bad. And that’s where most people die. In spite of widespread preference to die at home, in almost all populations most deaths occur in institutions. And this doesn’t just have consequences for the patient, but for the bereaved caregivers as well. Patients with cancer who died in an intensive care unit or hospital experienced more physical and emotional distress, and worse quality of life, at the end of life. And their caregivers suffered five times the odds of suffering posttraumatic stress disorder, and nearly nine times the odds of severe, prolonged disabling grief. Now this was an observational study––they weren’t randomized to die in different locations. So, this doesn’t prove cause and effect, but certainly raises concerns.

When researchers have looked into the care of dying patients in hospitals, it hasn’t been pretty. Basic interventions to maintain patients’ comfort were often not provided. Contact with dying patients was minimal, and the distancing and isolation worsened as death approached. For example, a 52-year-old woman with metastatic cancer spread to her liver. She had gross abdominal distention, was jaundiced and very breathless, but alert. Her eyes were swollen, and she shed yellow tears. The patient received no care from the nurses delegated to give care. Yet in the nursing record it was recorded that attention had been given to her personal hygiene, pressure areas to prevent bedsores, oral hygiene, and eyes. But it was all a lie. The only attention she got was to receive a commode from a nursing assistant. Contact time totaled six minutes over the 4.5 hours the researchers kept track.

In contrast, what would a good death look like? Retaining control, dignity, privacy, pain relief, you choose where, you chose how, emotional support, respecting your wishes, saying goodbye, being able to leave when it’s time to go, and not have life prolonged pointlessly. One’s best bet for all that is access to hospice care.

Palliative care is comfort measures to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life utilized at any stage of a serious illness, whereas hospice is just comfort measures, when focus shifts from curing the disease to improving the quality of one’s last days. Hospice is often framed as “giving up,“ but ironically, when you compare hospice versus non-hospice patient survival, the patients in hospice actually live longer. Patients who choose hospice care live on average about a month longer than similar patients who do not choose hospice. Randomize those with advanced lung cancer to early palliative care, and they don’t live a month longer—they live two and a half months longer! That’s like the survival benefit you might get with a standard chemotherapy regimen. And in fact, that’s one of the ways hospice could extend survival––by avoiding the risk of overtreatment with chemo and its related toxicity.

There are, however, limits to palliative care. Even under hospice, where one would assume excellent palliative care, there are those who appear to unavoidably spend their last months in uncontrollable pain. And this unbearable suffering, despite our best efforts, leads to requests for ending a patient`s life prematurely. Although physician-assisted suicide is gaining acceptance, it’s only legal in eight states plus D.C.

In contrast, VSED is legal throughout the U.S. VSED—voluntarily stopping eating and drinking—can be defined as a conscious decision to voluntarily and deliberately choose to stop eating and drinking, with the primary intention of hastening death because of the persistence of unacceptable suffering. I’ve talked about fasting to extend one’s life; what about fasting to shorten it?

We hear a lot about physician-assisted suicide, but VSED has not gained nearly as much attention. This is presented as perplexing, since supposedly it’s a relatively peaceful and comfortable way to die. But is it really? How long does it take? How would you do it? I’ll talk about the pros and cons and practical implications next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

We have all sorts of detailed stats about dying, but little about the experience of death. For the minority who die under the care of palliative care teams, one’s death could probably be described as good. But there’s a suspicion that for the majority who die in hospitals or nursing homes, the experience is bad. And that’s where most people die. In spite of widespread preference to die at home, in almost all populations most deaths occur in institutions. And this doesn’t just have consequences for the patient, but for the bereaved caregivers as well. Patients with cancer who died in an intensive care unit or hospital experienced more physical and emotional distress, and worse quality of life, at the end of life. And their caregivers suffered five times the odds of suffering posttraumatic stress disorder, and nearly nine times the odds of severe, prolonged disabling grief. Now this was an observational study––they weren’t randomized to die in different locations. So, this doesn’t prove cause and effect, but certainly raises concerns.

When researchers have looked into the care of dying patients in hospitals, it hasn’t been pretty. Basic interventions to maintain patients’ comfort were often not provided. Contact with dying patients was minimal, and the distancing and isolation worsened as death approached. For example, a 52-year-old woman with metastatic cancer spread to her liver. She had gross abdominal distention, was jaundiced and very breathless, but alert. Her eyes were swollen, and she shed yellow tears. The patient received no care from the nurses delegated to give care. Yet in the nursing record it was recorded that attention had been given to her personal hygiene, pressure areas to prevent bedsores, oral hygiene, and eyes. But it was all a lie. The only attention she got was to receive a commode from a nursing assistant. Contact time totaled six minutes over the 4.5 hours the researchers kept track.

In contrast, what would a good death look like? Retaining control, dignity, privacy, pain relief, you choose where, you chose how, emotional support, respecting your wishes, saying goodbye, being able to leave when it’s time to go, and not have life prolonged pointlessly. One’s best bet for all that is access to hospice care.

Palliative care is comfort measures to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life utilized at any stage of a serious illness, whereas hospice is just comfort measures, when focus shifts from curing the disease to improving the quality of one’s last days. Hospice is often framed as “giving up,“ but ironically, when you compare hospice versus non-hospice patient survival, the patients in hospice actually live longer. Patients who choose hospice care live on average about a month longer than similar patients who do not choose hospice. Randomize those with advanced lung cancer to early palliative care, and they don’t live a month longer—they live two and a half months longer! That’s like the survival benefit you might get with a standard chemotherapy regimen. And in fact, that’s one of the ways hospice could extend survival––by avoiding the risk of overtreatment with chemo and its related toxicity.

There are, however, limits to palliative care. Even under hospice, where one would assume excellent palliative care, there are those who appear to unavoidably spend their last months in uncontrollable pain. And this unbearable suffering, despite our best efforts, leads to requests for ending a patient`s life prematurely. Although physician-assisted suicide is gaining acceptance, it’s only legal in eight states plus D.C.

In contrast, VSED is legal throughout the U.S. VSED—voluntarily stopping eating and drinking—can be defined as a conscious decision to voluntarily and deliberately choose to stop eating and drinking, with the primary intention of hastening death because of the persistence of unacceptable suffering. I’ve talked about fasting to extend one’s life; what about fasting to shorten it?

We hear a lot about physician-assisted suicide, but VSED has not gained nearly as much attention. This is presented as perplexing, since supposedly it’s a relatively peaceful and comfortable way to die. But is it really? How long does it take? How would you do it? I’ll talk about the pros and cons and practical implications next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

This is the first of three videos on how to have control over your death. Please take care while watching these videos if this is a difficult topic for you. I’ll explore voluntarily stopping eating and drinking in VSED: The Benefits of Fasting for Ending Life and VSED: The Downsides of Fasting for Ending Life.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here. Read our important information about translations here.

Subscribe to our free newsletter and receive the preface of Dr. Greger’s upcoming book How Not to Age.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This