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A Vow to Change How People Die

Watching her mother's miserable death inspired this writer to apply to med school


Science writer Barbara Moran recently wrote an essay for The New York Times that I haven’t been able to shake.

It’s a beautiful and haunting reminiscence of her mother’s death titled Not Just a Death, A System Failure in which she recounts her mom’s last days — four miserable months in an I.C.U. — and explains how the experience inspired her to apply to medical school.

In it, she contrasts her mother’s death in 2009 at 67 from a chronic liver illness with that of Ted Kennedy who died around the same time but in very different circumstances.

“I’m sure Kennedy’s death had its share of horror, but that didn’t curb my envy,” she writes. “Teddy got ice cream; my mom got a sterile sponge soaked in warm ginger ale. Ted got the ocean; Mom got a gritty rooftop with a windsock. Ted got his own bed and movies; Mom got the blinking lights of the I.C.U. and the stupid C.A.R.E. channel. Her TV didn’t even have good reception.”

Moran continues: “I made peace with her death, but not with her dying. She had four months in the I.C.U., endless and pointless and painful procedures, and final days full of fear and despair. Why is this medicine’s default death for so many people?”

It’s a convincing and moving personal story that will hopefully inspire more doctors and patients and caregivers to demand change. As Moran points out, she can’t do it alone. But good for her for trying.

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