Five questions with end-of-life doctor

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By Carmela Fragomeni

American palliative care doctor and end-of-life activist Bruce (B.J.) Miller was in Hamilton Thursday to talk about Life Before Death.

The free event was part of Hamilton Health Sciences’ new twice-a-year speakers’ series called GreatBigIdeas.

Miller has made it his life’s mission to improve end-of-life experiences for people and their families after an accident in his early 20s left him close to death and a triple amputee.

The Spectator spoke with Miller before his presentation.

Q — Why do you say you have a formal relationship with death?

A — I’ve come close enough to acknowledge it and by acknowledging death, it begins a relationship. You begin to relate to “nothing lasts forever”…I can comment on what it’s like to lose because of my own injuries…We can’t control everything — I chose to keep that in mind as I traverse the day. It helps me live more fully and appreciate what I have while I still have it…Loss is hard. It also proves how precious life is in the first place, which encourages us to enjoy it while we have it.

Q — Why does the health system not serve the dying very well?

A — By choosing to wage war on disease, we end up feeling like losers when we’re not curable and when we die. It’s a shaming…The system does incredible work on cures. But it abandons the people who are no longer fixable. This adds an extra layer of sadness that is unnecessary.

A — How can we make dying a better experience for all of us?

Acknowledging it and pulling it out of the closet …normalizing it, I think that would help…Stop dividing medical issues from social issues…I worry about all the wisdom that languishes in nursing homes. I worry that no one listens.

Q — You say you don’t have to be dying to benefit from palliative care. What do you mean?

A — Everyone conflates palliative care with end of life…Palliative care is about timing in the face of illness and quality of life. It includes end of life but is not focused on it. Hospice is devoted to the end…Palliative care is not running away from death but not focusing on it either.

Q — How can someone live well when facing imminent death?

Well, that process begins before (facing death). If you crafted a world view that includes death, you won’t be surprised when your time comes. That way your persona can remain intact and you can stay whole to the end…even as your body crumbles. If you see death as an unnecessary force, you’ll find yourself at odds with yourself.

Complete Article HERE!

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