Feature

A lesson in how to die

In my father-in-law’s final six days, he joked and laughed, said good-bye, then peacefully slipped away surrounded by his family.

Bill KellerThe New York Times

If he were in a hospital in the U.S., doctors might have inflicted months of aggressive treatment on Anthony Gilbey, said Bill Keller. But when Gilbey—my father-in-law—was told he was dying of an inoperable tumor last month in a hospital in Britain, there was no heroic attempt to keep him alive—no brutal regimen of chemotherapy, no dialysis for his failing kidneys. Under a protocol “for the dying patient” adopted in most British hospitals, my father-in-law and his family consented to have his medications discontinued, his feeding tube removed, and the beeping machinery disconnected. In the U.S., an end-of-life specialist told me, the chances of a humane standard like this being widely adopted is “zero.” Demagogues like Sarah Palin would shout “death panel,” and insist it was “a backdoor form of euthanasia”—a heartless way of cutting medical costs. Humane guidelines for end-of-life care probably would save some money, but more importantly, they would provide people with “a kinder way of death.” In my father-in-law’s final six days, he joked and laughed, said good-bye, then peacefully slipped away surrounded by his family. “We should all die so well.”

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