In preparation for the Masorti End of Life Seminar, coming this Sunday at the LJCC, details below, I’ve been reading an extraordinary article by the American surgeon, Atul Gawande. Writing in the New Yorker, Gawande talks about how uncomfortable he feels attempting to explain to a woman he has just met the exact nature of the tumour inside her. ‘Am I going to die?’ the woman asks, ‘No, no,’ he responds, ‘of course not.’ It’s not true of course. Gawande knows that, as does, one suspect, the woman. Later in the article Gawande reports a Harvard study which asked the doctors of almost five hundred terminally ill patients to estimate how long they thought their patient would survive, and then waited. Sixty-three per cent overestimated survival time, on average by five hundred and thirty per cent. And, the better the doctors knew their patients, the more likely they were to err. It’s not just patients who struggle. So how do we learn to face our demise? Are we better off living in blind hope ignorance, or engaging so warmly in the inevitability of our passing that we risk the failure of extracting every day?
At the Seminar, on Sunday, I will be putting these questions to three senior palliative physicians, two hospice directors and a leading neurologist. The panel runs from 10:15 – 11:30. All are welcome, not only for the panel, but also a full day of exploration and engagement.