Death + the Law Death Ethics

When Medical Treatment is Worse than Death

Letting Go
What should medicine do when it can’t save your life?
Atul Gawande, The New Yorker (August 2, 2010)


Dr. Atul Gawande: Make End Of Life More Humane
Terry Gross, Fresh Air on WHHY (July 29, 2010)

A few weeks ago, Dr. Atul Gawande wrote a good piece on End of Life decision making for both patients and doctors. Gawande is a staff writer for the New Yorker and a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He was also interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air about the same topic. Both the essay and interview are quite good and I would suggest that everyone (regardless of age) take some time to mull over when you no longer want medical treatment for a terminal condition.

This is an important question to think about since death is assured at the end of life.

But how you die and what quality of life you have during that process is a much broader question.

I would encourage everyone to spend at least one hour discussing these issues with next of kin. That’s more time spent discussing death than most people do in a lifetime.

2 replies on “When Medical Treatment is Worse than Death”

I highly recommend Vicki Kind’s book “The Caregiver’s Path To Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices For Those Who Can’t.” ( at
Even if you’re not the decision-maker for somebody else’s end-of-life decisions, the section on how to fill out Advance Directives is well worth the price.

Thank you, Joan. I have ordered a copy. There is no doubt that this prolongation of the dying process is reconfiguring our relationship with death — and in many ways making it more terrifying than ever (Why do they nail down a coffin lid? To keep the oncologist out.) Are healthy lifestyle choices simply enabling our bodies to outlive our brains. I shall now have a good delve in the Death Ref archive…

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