End of LifeMedical technology has forgotten death’s role and its importance. We have to be something more than extending time. Walking the halls of many hospitals, I found numerous people who want to share memories, exchange wisdom, and settle relationships, establish legacies, make peace with God, and ensure that those who are left behind will be okay.

They want to end their story on their own term. This role is among life’s most important, for both the dying and those left. I think we find more ways to deny patients this role. Over and over, medicine inflicts deep wounds into the end of life and then stands oblivious to the harm.

The tough issue is to recognize that the small fixes provided by technology do not change the larger picture. Therein, we fail to recognize that fixing specific problems may not fix the patient.

I have 14 years of experience as a healthcare consultant. The real sorrow is that we (family and friends) are unable to significantly impact nature’s course. In the end, we can only accept its education. A patient once highlighted his sorrow.

“I woke up this morning I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t push the pillow up in the bed; couldn’t use a toothbrush; couldn’t pull my pants or socks on; and it’s hard getting to sit up. But the doctor told me I was doing great.”

Society threw medical technology at the man but failed to understand the patient’s biggest fears? How about concerns? What goals were most important? What trade-offs would the patient be willing to make?

For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause.

All of us have purposes larger than ourselves. Those are the conversations both the living and dying want to have.