Chapter 10 : Care of the Dying


Author:  Sandol Stoddard

Title:  Terminal, but Not Hopeless

Publication Information:  New York Times, 31 August, 1991.

Summary by Nancy Weitzman (QCC, 2004)


The American Hospice Movement has been one of the outstanding expressions in recent years of inventiveness and compassion in combating suffering.  In hospitals and medical schools, hospice philosophy and expertise are helping to develop more humanely responsible attitudes in the practice of medicine.    Skilled hospice teamwork can keep patients quite comfortable, physically and emotionally, upholding their sense of dignity and often in their own homes, during this final stage in their lives.


Some hospices are small, independent, non-profit organizations and work in conjunction with local visiting nurses, hospitals, social workers, pastoral support, therapists, nutritionists and specially trained volunteers.  Family and friends are also part of the hospice team and continue to receive support during bereavement.


Much of the controversy surrounding suicide seems to be based on two false assumptions.  The first is that seriously ill people must expect agonies and humiliations from which death itself is the only merciful release.  This is not so.  Hospice patients are treated with respect.  They are not attached to machines that prolong dying while destroying whatever quality of life remains.  The pain medicine alternatives available today are very different and quite effective compared to what we had in the past.   The second false assumption is less obvious, it is the unspoken view that those who are very ill, very old or very frail have not done it right, might possibly be a burden to their families, feel a loss of self-esteem and are clinically depressed and hopeless.  This attitude does not have to prevail and only serves to foul our own lives.  It presses the loaded gun, or the overdose, into the hands of sufferers.


Individuals traveling the last miles of the road that lies before them tell their stories and experiences of living in hospice care for their remaining time.  Their stories reveal a loving, caring existence surrounded by family, friends and emotional support.  We should embrace all of the experiences our lives offer, even when approaching the end to life’s road.  For the terminal, it replaces hopelessness with a positive attitude of love.

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