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Health on the Hill: Quality Talks – What is the Personal Cost of a Bad Death?

By Mark Dann – Federal Affairs Director, Compassion & Choices

Since no one gets out of here alive, we might be able to choose between a good death and a bad death. Many of us would say a good death means we are free of pain and suffering, surrounded by loved ones in a setting of our choice, and able to wind down after a long and fulfilling life. And to most a bad death is filled with unnecessary agony, and occurs in an alien environment under fluorescent lighting and hooked up to tubes and machines, marked by futile and unwanted tests and treatments.

The personal cost of a bad death was a persistent theme in the Quality Talks forum hosted by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), where we were active participants.

Numerous speakers and other participants were deeply worried about the quality of life at its end. If people’s values and goals are not embraced throughout their care, and they don’t realize the impact that various tests and treatments will have on their quality of life, what will someone’s final days be like? How will the dying person be remembered? When time is scarce, good decisions matter.

Our medical system and our society are starting to grapple with these questions, which Compassion & Choices has been wrestling with for over 30 years. In the next few weeks we will roll out our new federal agenda. Its aim is to ensure that consumers are empowered to make decisions that align with their values at each stage of an advanced illness. The cost of a bad death is incalculable. We’re here to reverse those trends and practices.