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Letters: Everyone dies. So let’s talk about it.

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Re “The ‘conversation,’” Opinion, Dec. 30

Thank you for printing Brad Stulberg’s Op-Ed article about discussing end-of-life care before a major medical emergency.

I grew up in the La Crosse, Wis., area and still have family there, and while I didn’t know before reading Stulberg’s piece that it was America’s best place to die, I do know that I have a copy of my 83-year-old mother’s end-of-life wishes, as does my brother in Denver and my sister-in-law back on the farm in Wisconsin. Her doctor has a copy.

Because we started having these conversations when Mom was younger and in better health, I don’t think the discussions have been threatening. Having the directive gives all of us peace of mind that when the end does come, she’ll go out the way she wants to.

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Death is a trip we’ll all take, so we might as well talk about how we want to get there.

Janet K. Schwartzkopf

Palm Springs

I teach a college class titled “Perspectives on Death and Dying,” in which we have just such advance-planning conversations. My students include veterans returning from deployment who have experienced death firsthand. Many are struggling with the deaths of friends and family, including their children. Death respects no one.

Our first task is to become comfortable with even uttering the shudder-worthy term “death.” Guest speakers include hospice and children’s grief counselors; a radiologist discusses how he diagnoses brain death. The students are asked to keep a reflective journal.

After a field trip to the mortuary, they compose their advance directives, their wills, bucket lists and funeral instructions; their final essay is a “legacy of love” letter — all rather unsettling assignments. But in-depth and frequently emotional dialogues are cathartic and often healing.

My edification: heartfelt hugs and their whispered, “I am no longer afraid to talk about death.”

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Rebecca Hertsgaard

Palm Desert

We would add to Stulberg’s piece only that the person carrying out the patient’s end-of-life wishes must have the fortitude to stand up to medical personnel who say, “You don’t want her to starve, do you?” when pushing the use of feeding tubes on a dying patient.

There’s also that family member who accuses the healthcare agent of killing Dad by withholding aggressive care, as were his wishes.

Just because medical technology is available doesn’t mean it should be utilized. When a relative faces death, family members are often made to feel guilty. But end-of-life decisions are made so much easier if people have the conversations prior to hospitalization.

One way to start a conversation is is to bring up a famous case (say, Karen Quinlan or Terri Schiavo) and discuss what they would want in that situation.

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Georgia Jessup

Linda Lancaster

Santa Monica

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