Palliative Care May Preserve Dignity for Terminal Patients

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family.

When he was a sophomore in college, B.J. Miller went out drinking with friends. On the way to a convenience store at 4 a.m., he decided to climb to the top of a commuter rail car. When he got to the top, he received a massive electrical shock and fell.

He woke up in a hospital a few days later, severely burned and in great pain. Doctors had to amputate both of his legs below the knees and his left arm. Rather than retreating into a permanent shell, Miller went back to school and eventually became a doctor.

Learning from his own near-death experience, Dr. Miller decided to devote his medical career to end-of-life, or palliative care, focusing on the quality of life for the terminally ill and their families.

Dr. Miller eventually became executive director of a small hospice in San Francisco known as the Zen Hospice Project. Once a pioneer, the Zen Hospice is now a role model for a growing effort nationwide to “reclaim death as a human experience instead of primarily a medical one.”

Dr. Miller shares his experience and his mission in the New York Times Magazine article, “One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die.” The article chronicles the story of one patient’s journey to accept a terminal diagnosis of mesothelioma and how Dr. Miller’s approach helped him, and his family, to achieve some peace in the final days. The piece is fairly long, but well worth a read, especially if you or someone you love is dealing with a terminal illness.

Reference: New York Times Magazine (January 3, 2017) “One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die.”