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How to improve the experience of death and dying in America

The more sophisticated our society becomes, the more we resist death. Our medical care models are overly rigid and controlling and fail to adapt to an individual’s changing needs or offer alternatives in terms of settings and services.

More than a change in care models, we need a shift in attitude away from medicalizing death, which is, and should be, a natural process. Knowing a patient’s preferences is crucial to this process, but because we don’t candidly discuss end-of-life care, few caregivers really know the care their patient truly desires.

As The Journey’s End argues, grappling with the reality of death has both practical and philosophical benefits. It can give us closure, freedom and a sense of purpose, yet many of us will fail to have that kind of death experience. We’ve lost our “death literacy,” the skills, traditions, and values that our predecessors used to deal with death.

A societal appreciation for death is long overdue. Today dying is no longer a familial experience but rather a cold, clinical, and medical ordeal. Modern medicine overreaches in its attempts to fend off death and this excessive focus on clinical intervention at the end of life is costly and comes at the expense of other social needs.

While investigating the experience of death and dying in the United States, The Journey’s End:

  • Argues the benefits of developing death literacy

  • Examines the root causes of healthcare dysfunction that shortchanges the elderly

  • Provides recommendations on how we can improve elder care and dramatically reduce healthcare expenses

The process of dying should be owned by individuals and family members with support from health professionals instead of the other way around. The status quo of ineffective and expensive care for the elderly is not the only option. We can take a different approach by changing the system’s incentives and embracing natural death. We can drive change by developing death literacy and owning how we wish to face death.

I’ll explore these topics in future blogs and in greater detail in The Journey’s End, available in April.

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