Coronavirus spotlights unease about end-of-life issues

THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC has brought inspired scenes of heroic health care providers engaged in an all-out effort to save lives. But what about helping those at the end of life have a good death?

Many of those dying from COVID-19 are elderly patients in hospital intensive care units, connected to ventilators and other life-support technology. It’s become a grim ending for many who have fallen victim to this horrible disease.

It also raises a lot of very difficult questions about death and dying in America, a subject we are not very good at dealing with, said Dr. David Duong on this week’s Codcast.

“I think that we as a society have been quite resistant and quite hesitant to have conversations around death and dying because of our cultural context around it and how it’s the end. It’s the final, it’s a defeat,” said Duong, a primary care physician and internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “In our medical care system, it is giving up. I think we need a reframe or a reshift of that to [the idea] that dying is really the next stage of life and it’s the next chapter, and how do we want to be in control of how that next stage happens.”

Duong wrote poignantly about end of life issues in a 2016 essay in the Huffington Post. He says the coronavirus pandemic, in which fatalities are heavily weighted toward the oldest patients, is casting our ambivalence over the topic in sharp relief.