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Dying in America

If you’ve read any of the previous blogs on The Green Reaper, then you know that I am always proclaiming the importance of approaching your burial plans with your own individuality intact. I have seen first-hand how meaningful and fulfilling an alternative burial can be. And I believe that taking our end-of-life decisions on our own terms should extend to all processes at the end of our days.

So I have been very encouraged to see end-of-life issues entering into our national conversation recently. About a month ago the National Institute of Medicine released a report entitled “Dying in America.” This 500-page report examines how our culture and current health care system approach death. The recommendations of that report suggests beginning end-of-life planning earlier and discussing our advance directives more regularly. It also recommends increasing training for doctors and nurses in palliative and hospice care, as well as bolstering the palliative care requirements on accreditation boards and regulatory standards.

Coinciding with the release of this report, “The Atlantic” also published a controversial piece by Zeke Emanuel entitled “Why I want to die at 75.” This piece lays out his opinion that modern medicine has extended the years of our life, but not the quality of our life. He states the case for moving funding from extension of life to focusing on addressing various diseases to improve quality of life earlier on. He also believes more training should be dedicated to palliative care providers, and shares his decision to eschew all preventative testing and measures beyond the age of 75.

With a wide swath of our population approaching retirement, the concerns of end-of-life care are something we should all be considering with even more seriousness. The next several decades will see a staggering increase in the number of people needing medical care and assistance. And while most of these boomers would agree that having a ‘good death’ means approaching the end-of-life on their own terms, they are not all adequately informed to make sure their wishes are known and followed. Medical professionals fight to save lives – a mandate which often results in viewing death as an enemy instead of an eventuality. This combines for a culture that does not always promote preparation and a healthy level of acceptance.

Focusing our conversation on this universal topic and educating our friends and neighbors on their options will do a lot toward changing our culture and promoting a better end-of-life experience. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our loved ones is to push this difficult conversation forward.