As a licensed naturopathic doctor, my job is to help patients feel better, to understand and address root causes of illness, and to offer lifestyle and natural medicine approaches for acute and chronic ailments. My focus is supporting my patients so they can live a life as healthy as possible. And still, patients die.
As I round the corner of 36 years in practice, many of the patients I met 30 years ago when they were middle-aged or older, are now well into their 80s and 90s. And even the healthiest among them will eventually pass. During these pandemic years, while I have not personally lost a patient to COVID, the sheer number of deaths, and the specter of medicalized, difficult, and lonely deaths, raises the question, what does it mean to have a good death?
In a recent, comprehensive review article from the Lancet, 11 component elements of a good death are outlined:
§ “Relief from physical pain and other physical symptoms
§ Effective communication and relationship with healthcare providers
§ Performance of cultural, religious, or other spiritual rituals
§ Relief from emotional distress or other forms of psychological stress
§ Autonomy with regards to treatment-related decision making
§ Dying at the preferred place
§ Not prolonging life unnecessarily
§ Awareness of the deep significance of what is happening
§ Emotional support from family and friends
§ Not being a burden on anyone
§ The right to terminate one’s life”
I had to read that list a few times to appreciate its breadth and depth.
This is not a spoiler alert: this list makes up elements of a good life, too.
Most of us want to not have ongoing physical or emotional pain, be able to communicate effectively, feel connected culturally or spiritually, not have relentless stress, live where we want, be self-aware, have autonomy and self-agency, and not be a burden to others. In essence, it’s many of the very same characteristics of a good life that go into having a good death.