But doctors still don’t over-treat themselves. They see the consequences of this constantly. Almost anyone can find a way to die in peace at home, and pain can be managed better than ever. Hospice care, which focuses on providing terminally ill patients with comfort and dignity rather than on futile cures, provides most people with much better final days. Amazingly, studies have found that people placed in hospice care often live longer than people with the same disease who are seeking active cures. I was struck to hear on the radio recently that the famous reporter Tom Wicker had “died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family.” Such stories are, thankfully, increasingly common.
To administer medical care that makes people suffer is anguishing.
Physicians are trained to gather information without revealing any of
their own feelings, but in private, among fellow doctors, they’ll vent.
“How can anyone do that to their family members?” they’ll ask. I suspect
it’s one reason physicians have higher rates of alcohol abuse and
depression than professionals in most other fields. I know it’s one
reason I stopped participating in hospital care for the last 10 years of
Ken Murray, MD, is Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at USC. This post was originally published at Zócalo Public Square, a non-profit ideas exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.