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A Conversation for Thanksgiving: Being Mortal

November 23, 2014 06:30AM | Print this page
by Rabbi Richard F. Address D.Min

A Conversation for Thanksgiving: Being Mortal
Photo courtesy of BigB20 / Flickr. © All rights reserved.

I just returned from a day meeting of C-TAC, the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care. I co-chair its working group on Interfaith Spirituality and Diversity. It was, as usual, a stimulating meeting. The theme of much of the discussion was the growing concern over and interest in issues related to end-of-life decision-making.

Currently, five states—Washington, Oregon, Montana, New Mexico and Vermont—have passed choice in dying (or aid in dying) legislation. Others, including Connecticut, are contemplating it. The Assembly of the New Jersey state legislature passed, by a vote of 41-31, that state's version and has passed it to the state Senate.

This idea is gaining traction, no doubt, motivated by the Boomers' desire to control even our own passing. Having seen, in many cases, what took place with parents or other loved ones in the generation that preceded us, I have often heard the refrain, "I don’t want that to happen to me."

Developing along side of the legal discussion is a growing movement that is encouraging individuals and families to have what is called, "the conversation.” It is meant to promote early discussions between individuals and families about one's wishes on end-of-life decisions. There is even a day set aside to focus on this, National Health Care Decision Day, usually held on April 16.

It is an important issue, given the pace of medical technology and the ability to sustain life, or, as some would say, prolong an inevitable death. 

In the last few years, a steady stream of books have appeared addressing the issue. The most recent, and one of the best, is Being Mortal, Atul Gawande, a surgeon, public researcher, Harvard professor and a staff writer for The New Yorker. (See video of Gawande ib PBS's "Frontline" below.)

All of these books, articles and discussions focus on aspects of compassion and healing—and on a desire to develop what is being called, "patient centered care.” This goes to the heart of what we may mean by treating someone with dignity and sanctity, which involves the very subjective issue or value of "quality of life."

We are just at the beginning of what will be an on-going conversation amongst the medical community, the spiritual community and individuals and families. The legislative push will continue as will the attempt to have this issue be part of every family’s conversations.

There is even a movement to have the beginning of this conversation take place at moments when families are together for celebrations. That is why the suggestion is being made to begin this conversation at a holiday such as Thanksgiving.

It is a conversation that is not finished in one sitting; it raises all kinds of emotional and psycho-spiritual concerns. Yet, it is a conversation that should not be ignored. 

Tags: boomers life changes mortality rabbi_richard_address choice_in_dying the conversation

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