death and dying

Young, Healthy And Planning For Death

Nov 2, 2017

I’m 25. Most people my age don’t think about death, let alone how they would like to die. Except for the occasional bag of M&Ms I consume, I’m mostly healthy.

Lori Wallace is sitting on a couch with her 11-year-old son and his new pet snake. It's burrowing under his armpit, as if it were afraid. But Wallace says it's not.

"If he was terrified, he would be balled up," Wallace says. "See, that is why they are called ball pythons. When they are scared, they turn into a little ball."

Karen Shakerdge

At 44-years-old Dave Adox was facing the end of his two year battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He needed a ventilator to breathe and couldn’t move any part of his body, except his eyes. Once he started to struggle with his eyes – his only way to communicate – Adox decided it was time to die.

Now that California has legalized aid in dying, advocacy groups are planning statewide education campaigns so doctors know what to do when patients ask for lethal medication to end their lives.

One of the first stops for doctors new to the practice is a doctor-to-doctor toll-free helpline. It's staffed by physicians from states where the practice is legal, who have experience writing prescriptions for lethal medication.

Medicare Says Doctors Should Get Paid To Discuss End-Of-Life Issues

Aug 19, 2015
Jo Ann Farwell has a brain tumor and wants to make sure her sons are clear about her end-of-life wishes. After talking with her doctor, she filled out a form that Oregon provides to help those family conversations.
Alan Sylvestre / Oregon Public Broadcasting

Remember the so-called death panels?

When Congress debated the Affordable Care Act in 2009, the legislation originally included a provision that would have allowed Medicare to reimburse doctors when they meet with patients to talk about end-of-life care.

But then Sarah Palin argued that such payments would lead to care being withheld from the elderly and disabled. Her comment ignited a firestorm among conservatives and helped fuel the opposition to the legislation.

Her assertions greatly distressed Dr. Pamelyn Close, a palliative care specialist in Los Angeles.

Speaking of Loss

Apr 27, 2015
Thomas8047 via Flickr/

I knew that a child had died by the way that she paused and glanced at her husband when I asked “how many children do you have?” She was eighty-four years old and had been referred for a low platelet count. Her husband’s wide tie imprinted with schooners reminded me of the tie I wore to my sister Sarah’s wedding when I was seventeen.

I didn't say goodbye to my husband when we was dying of cancer. It sounds sad, doesn't it?  It wasn't. It was my gift to him. I'll never regret it. My husband didn't want to believe he was dying or maybe he just couldn't handle the emotion that comes with "the talk". Either way, there came a day when it was obvious that he was days away from dying, and yet his favorite response to any question about how he was feeling was still, "I'm great. I’m going to beat this". So I had a choice to either say goodbye anyway or just drop it. This is why I dropped it.

man in a suit, black and white

Ed's glasses rest on the bedside table next to a piece of uneaten cherry pie covered with saran wrap and a pocket Bible with an orange vinyl cover. Ed's body lies partially covered with a sheet. His wife Karla rests her head on the pillow. I had pronounced Ed dead several moments before, and now I wait with Karla for her daughters to return from the cafeteria. 

When 66-year-old Robert Schwimmer was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013, he didn't take it all that seriously. His doctors told him it was "operable," and that was the only word he seemed to hear.

Now he's in hospice care and, as he tells NPR's Rachel Martin, he accepts that he's no longer trying to prolong life, but rather living out what's left of it.