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Contributor: Diana Dilger - Senior Health Writer, Emmi Solutions

Diana Dilger Diana Dilger

Dr. Craig Bowron recently wrote an insightful article in the Washington Post about why people are unable to sidestep aggressive treatment with their elderly loved ones, mostly focusing on the feelings of guilt most of us have around not doing “enough.” Having done extensive research on end-of-life care, including a ride-along with a hospice agency social worker, I couldn’t agree with him more. Most people don’t want to let their loved ones – and, if they’re being honest, themselves – down. Somehow putting their sick loved ones through aggressive treatment that’s hard on the body (and hard on the caregivers, both emotionally and logistically) feels more active and more loving than letting the loved one lay at home without professional medical attention.

But do they really have to die at a hospital? With hospice, people can die in a comfortable, familiar place, not shoved full of tubes, or poisonous or harsh medicines. There are medical professionals to attend to the discomfort of dying and help caregivers with logistical decisions. And I know at this point, many people know about hospice and its benefits. I’m not preaching any ground-breaking news here.

What may be less discussed is the fact that most Americans want to die at home (Time/CNN poll, 2000). And I know what we say in a poll or what we think about strangers dying or death as an abstract concept, or even sometimes our own deaths can be an entirely different ball game from when we’re faced with the death of someone we love. Suddenly the feelings of guilt, of responsibility, of wanting medicine to “step up” and somehow stop death or prolong life take over.

But as Dr. Bowron points out, medicine can only do so much. And just because a treatment could prolong someone’s life, does that make it worth it? At some point we have to ask ourselves, to what end? What will this procedure accomplish? Is this worth the suffering or discomfort it may cause?

If there are positive answers to these questions, then by all means, that’s what our technology and advancements are there for. But if we’re having trouble answering these questions or waffling on our answers, perhaps another option is worth looking into. After all, doing the research isn’t committing to taking action, and asking a question doesn’t commit you to the answer. It might not save your loved one’s life, but it could make their life that much more peaceful.

Diana Dilger is a senior health writer with Emmi Solutions. While she has covered a number of topics at Emmi, her recent focus has been on decision aids, pain (both acute and chronic) and advanced care planning. She can be reached on Twitter via @dianadoesthis.