Keep dying issues alive and kicking

Keep dying issues alive and kicking

Let's talk about dying.

You don't hear this very often because most people would rather not.

Yet death is such a colossal event in the life of any person, it's always been puzzling to me why so little discussion takes place, publicly or privately.

You know it's going to happen and that when it does it's, well, as important as life and death. So how come so few of us think deeply about it?

What exactly happens when one dies, what to do in the last phase of life, how best to prepare for the eventuality?

How far should one go to try and delay death?

The last question especially is one that many will have to face if they are stricken with some terminal disease and have to decide how much medical treatment to get.

Because of the advances in medicine and, aided by modern technology, there is much more that doctors and hospitals can do to prolong life even for the seriously ill.

But how much is enough?

I heard two opposing views on this question at a recent lunch with friends.

One argued for limited intervention, and to let nature take its course. In an earlier age, when medicine wasn't as well developed, people accepted readily the limits of science and technology in prolonging life.

His philosophy: put all your efforts into having a healthy life - that means eating healthily and exercising regularly - but when it's time to die, accept your fate and do so in a dignified and comfortable way.

He had seen too many cases of terminally ill patients subjected to treatment, some of which, like chemotherapy, can be unpleasant and distressing for both patient and family members, in the desperate hope of extending life by who knows how long.

But who decides when treatment ought to stop?

Another friend said letting nature take its course was best left to the patients themselves, and that they knew best whether they had the will to live or let go and give up the fight.

Dying patients do this all the time, she argued.

A mother waits till all her children have come to visit before taking her last breath. My friend had seen too many of these cases to know she wouldn't want to make the decision for anyone else.

Renowned eye surgeon Arthur Lim, who died last month, was said to have refused to go to hospital for treatment towards the end.

As a doctor, he would have known better than most how his illness might have progressed and what his medical options were. Facing death, he chose to exercise control over his own life.

In Singapore, the two organisations that have done the most to get people to understand better and talk about these issues are the Lien and Tsao foundations.

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