A good death is one where the patient passes away peacefully, with no pain and in the presence of his or her loved ones, in comfortable surroundings, such as one's home. A bad death is where the patient dies, perhaps alone and often in unbearable pain after having his or her life prolonged by aggressive and often dehumanizing care in an ICU. Far too many deaths in India fall into the second category because of a lack of knowledge about end of life care and confusion and fear of the prevalent laws in the country. An example of this is the recent death of a well-known police officer in Mumbai who committed suicide because of the depression caused by incurable cancer.
In India, there has been no concerted discussion on the right to die with dignity and with as much peace as possible. The subject is one that most people prefer to avoid and the result is that patients are given futile treatments that only manage symptoms with no hope of recovery. It is for this reason that the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine has created a position statement on this matter. This states that in the case of terminally ill patients in the ICU, the focus should be on a shift from the system of paternalistic care that pointlessly prolongs suffering to one of a shared decision-based model when deciding on the objective of treating terminally ill patients.
If you have a loved one who is suffering from an incurable disease, think of the objective of the care being provided. Will it only prolong the suffering without offering any real benefits to the patient? Would it not be preferable to replace aggressive care with that which will make him or her more comfortable and provide more peace?
It is difficult, but for the patient's sake, it will be better for both the patient and the family to discuss the option of palliative and end of life care with a critical care specialist to enable the patient's life to end with peace and dignity.
Article by Dr. Susovan Mitra, MBBS, MD (Emergency Medicine) MEM, Dip. Emergency Medicine, Fellowship in Critical Care Medicine
Consultant Intensivist, Kauvery Hospital