Teaching Doctors to Say When

Why do so many doctors feel that giving more treatment is the only way they can express their care and commitment?

A woman wants to understand how her cancer will worsen over time. Her oncologist focuses on the treatments that have added years to her life since diagnosis. Enter palliative care physician Diane E. Meier, who asks: Why do so many doctors feel that giving more treatment is the only way they can express their care and commitment?

“Over the years [the patient] realized that her oncologist was unwilling—in her view, unable—to talk to her about the “what-ifs?” of her cancer,” says Meier, who is the director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care.

“Healthy and happy as the patient appeared, the uncertainty and the unknown were consuming her.”

Read on for the full story of this patient and her oncologist—whom she wanted to thank before she died—and Meier’s ideas on how we can build a better system of care for everyone, patients and doctors.

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The When You Die staff is committed to bringing death back into our everyday conversations as an integral part of our human journey.

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