July 19, 2014

Dying on your own terms in not giving up

Deborah Klotz in The Boston Globe  Stuart Scott’s ESPY speech omits mention of dying the good death

After being diagnosed with a rare cancer seven years ago, ESPN anchor Stuart Scott has been living life on his own terms, fighting — as he told a crowd of television viewers during the ESPY awards on Wednesday night — and never giving up…..

It was a powerful, heartfelt moment. Left unsaid, however, was that Scott, 48, is likely going to die at some point from his cancer that has metastasized, causing liver and kidney complications. I worry that the expectation he sets for cancer patients to fight the good fight leaves those who choose to accept the inevitable feeling ashamed or defeated.
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But what if a cancer patient doesn’t want to fight to the last breath? What if that person elects to skip chemotherapy — and perhaps live a few months less — to be able to sit on the porch and watch the sunrise or die peacefully surrounded by family at home?

Can we not celebrate the lives of those patients as well, even if they choose to opt out of the fight? When cancer cruelly strikes a person young, like Valvano and Scott, doctors, loved ones, and friends expect them to try every treatment possible (regardless of the side effects) to have the best shot at a cure.
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A Dana-Farber Cancer Institute study published in March found that more than half of end-stage cancer patients receive chemotherapy during the last few months of their life, and those who received such treatment were more likely to die in a hospital intensive care unit, hooked to a ventilator, rather than at home as they would have preferred.

Scott spoke of how important it was to have his doctors and family members fight for him when he was too tired to fight on his own. He’s opting to enter a clinical trial for a new drug to help him in his battle. While I respect him for this decision, I would have respected him the same had he chosen not to try an experimental treatment.

But I question whether society would have or whether he would have been given the “perseverance award” if he had spoken about his decision to die on his own terms.
Posted by Jill Fallon at July 19, 2014 1:41 PM | Permalink