Feature

Why doctors refuse heroic medical care

Like most doctors, I have made it clear that when my time comes, “I will go gently into that good night,” said Ken Murray at The Wall Street Journal.

Ken Murray
The Wall Street Journal

Most doctors die differently than their patients, said Ken Murray. When our time comes, those of us who’ve spent our lives in the health-care system tend to decline aggressive treatment to save our lives. Take my friend Charlie, for example—a 68-year-old orthopedist who discovered he had pancreatic cancer. He was offered experimental surgery that might have given him 15 percent odds of survival, “albeit with a poor quality of life.” Charlie declined that option, and went home to spend his last months with his family. He died “serenely and gently” in his own bed several months later. Having seen so many people die, doctors know that “heroic measures” to prolong life often succeed only in providing a few extra weeks or months of suffering and indignity. Unfortunately, most people would rather not think about death, so only 20 percent have written living wills that give them “control over how their lives end.” That’s a pity; the time to think about this is now. Like most doctors, I have made it clear that when my time comes, “I will go gently into that good night.”

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