Why Americans Can’t Die With Dignity

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Why does Medicare pay for procedures, but not the conversations that would help sick people and their families understand their concerns? What are the chances a person over 85 will come out of anesthesia without mental deficiency? Why is home care so poorly organized and ill paid?


Katy Butler a veteran journalist shared her thoughts about end of life planning, hospice care and the media’s role in stimulating discussions about death and dying. . In her book, Knocking On Heaven’s Door, Butler provides an in-depth analysis on how modern technology is unnecessarily used to prolong life, even if there is pain and suffering. Just because it may not look kind to the outside world, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to extreme measures to insure a natural death for a loved one. Butler stands firmly beside this point
The story behind Knocking On Heaven’s Door began when Katy Butler’s father, Jeff Butler, received a pacemaker and was never informed of the alternatives available. His wife and Katy’s mother, Val Butler, became his caregiver, watching her husband’s heart outlive his mind. Butler’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer where she received a double mastectomy and multiple heart surgeries towards the end of her life.

But she died the death she chose, not the death anyone else had in mind. – Katy Butler

Val Butler was the first of the Butler’s to fully understand the value of an educated end-of-life plan, directly passing this logic to her daughter and two sons.

It was a kindness from me to my dad to remove any obstacles for a natural death. – Katy Butler

Her personal feeling is reinforced by Obama’s health care overhaul to reimburse physicians for end of life counseling. In Butler’s opinion, these conversations should not be framed as end of life planning discussions but should be meant to inform and educate patients on medical procedures.
In her book, Butler describes “slow medicine” as a proper representation of how medical treatment can be beneficial in a non-aggressive way. This is an opportunity for the doctor to get to know the patient and the patient feels more comfortable, knowing that the physician is properly taking care of them.

Patients tend to be more conservative than their doctors, at least from the research I’ve seen. – Katy Butler

As a more concerned approach on quality of life, physicians are now reimbursed for the time they spend educating the patient.

It’s unfortunate that these conversations are only being framed as end of life counseling, because then it becomes vulnerable to the ‘death panel’ argument. – Katy Butler

When asked about the premise of the US veering away from the conversation about death, Butler explains:

We kind of believe that advances in medical technology can postpone death forever– like there is no such thing as aging. – Katy Butler

She ventures to say that we are sort of anti-tradition and pro-technology which distracts us from the act of grieving or coping with death. According to a 2012 survey performed by Lake Research Partners and the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California found that 70% of state residents want to die at home but nationally two fifths die in hospitals and one fifth in an intensive care unit.

I think the problem is people are really not informed about pros, cons and alternatives to treatments that they are getting or offered. – Katy Butler

You can help by spreading awareness about end-of-life options in the elderly communities in your local towns and neighborhoods.

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