Senator Kennedy's death this week from malignant brain cancer highlights the limits of medical treatment. He received the best medical care possible, and still died in little over a year from his cancer -- the most common form of brain cancer, one with no effective treatment.
At the same time, by all accounts, his last year was mostly a good one, filled with family, attention to the things that mattered most to him, and the opportunity to die where he wished to be.
It's a last year that many would hope for. But not all are able to enjoy. Sometimes it takes an advocate within the medical establishment to help families find peace and comfort at the end of life. Not all doctors are trained to deliver bad news at all, let alone to do so tactfully and with full recognition of what it means.
The New York Times recently ran a long article about a branch of medicine dedicated to helping more people end their lives with dignity and comfort. If you or your family find yourself dealing with end of life care, find out if there's a palliative care physician available in your health plan, and take advantage of their training. Their focus is on comfort at end of life, not aggresive medical intervention that will ultimately only prolong, not prevent, death.
To learn more about palliative care, see Long-Term Care, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).