Doctors should speak more candidly about death and dying

To the editor: Nora Zamichow's words on doctors discussing the inevitable with terminally ill patients are right on target. ("The two words most doctors avoid saying: You're dying," Op-Ed, Feb. 13)

It will be seven years this month since my husband died. Our oncologist came close but never mentioned the D-word; my Erv had the courage to ask, "How much time do I have?" The doctor said "weeks," but the word "death" never entered the conversation.


With a colleague, my husband, a rabbi, was able to discuss his death. He spoke of his distress at leaving me alone; he expressed his wishes, but he never had the opportunity to discuss his death with our doctor and friend. We knew he was dying; we talked about it together.

Still, our doctor continued to try to conquer death without saying the word. At the end, he offered a medication "with rare promise, but it has uncomfortable side effects." Erv turned it down.

Since Erv died, I have tried to use the words "death and dying" whenever appropriate. I do not like the euphemisms; even the term "passing" offends me; it skirts the truth.

Death is part of life; the doctors know that, and it is their responsibility to reach out to us and help us through it rather than denying its inevitability.

Agnes G. Herman, San Marcos


To the editor: Zamichow's article is most interesting in that it suggests that death is something that catches us off guard — that "doctors say it can be hard to predict the timing."

From the day we are born, death is a certainty, and we need to speak about it and plan for it all through our life so that whenever it occurs, we are fully prepared for it.

As for the doctors' role, they are trained to cure and have a difficult time dealing with death. But one issue that is increasingly problematic is the fact that technology has placed a computer between individuals and their doctors, who no longer have the time to sit and hold our hands during end-of-life situations.

Unfortunately, we are often in denial and avoid dealing with reality.

Bernard Otis, West Hills

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