This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 10 table of contents.

Modern Ways of Dying

Once upon a time, most deaths from illness took place at home. When a person was seriously ill, there was little to do but keep them comfortable and wait to see if they got better, and that could be done at home. Nowadays, expensive machines can keep dying people alive for months. Such machines are usually found only in hospitals, so nowadays 65% of deaths take place in hospitals rather than homes.

What are some problems associated with hospital deaths?

Sometimes extraordinary measures such as special breathing machines can only postpone the inevitable. Unless a person fills out a Living Will, asking that extraordinary measures to preserve life not be taken when there is no hope of recovery, doctors feel obliged to use every medical technique available to keep a person alive a little bit longer. This high-tech approach may destroy the quality of life for a person who only has a few weeks of life left. Instead of lying in a bed at home, talking to relatives and sharing memories, such a person may spend the last days of life in an intensive care ward of a hospital, hooked to exotic machines or to respirators that make conversation difficult.

Such end-of-life "extraordinary measures" are also very costly, and it is not unusual for an old person's life savings to be consumed in the last weeks of life. About 28% of the Medicare budget goes toward maintaining people in the last year of life, and typical hospital bills for terminally ill patients are between $20,000 and $75,000.

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