There’s a Better Way to Die

Publish Date:: 
Friday, June 10, 2016 - 12:15pm

Pictured above: Dr. Ira Byock


Americans are suffering unnecessarily as they die.

So says Dr. Ira Byock, one of the nation’s foremost experts in palliative care.

Dr. Byock, Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer for the Institute for Human Caring, believes our society focuses too much on fighting illness, no matter the cost, while shying away from ever talking about death.

The result: when faced with end-of-life, patients and their families struggle to make decisions without the support or resources they need. Patients end up dying fearful and unprepared.

Worse, some health plans, like Medicare, force a patient to choose between life-sustaining treatments for their terminal illness and comfort care as they die.

This means many Americans suffer through their last days, fighting their terminal illness. Although most people would rather die peacefully at home, many pass away alone and uncomfortable in hospitals or nursing homes.

Too many patients and families are missing out on the emotional, physical and mental comfort that hospice can provide. Less than 45 percent of dying Americans receive hospice care at home. And most people don’t take advantage of hospice until the last 2 weeks of their life.

Dr. Byock says we shouldn’t force people to choose: we can offer both life-sustaining treatment and comfort care. Studies show that patients that receive illness treatment along with hospice care live longer. And given the choice, most people would utilize both options as they move towards the end of their life.

The American health care system can provide a better way to die — if we can open up to talking about it, and rethink our assumptions about suffering.


Dr. Ira Byock will be the keynote at the Best Care Possible: Clinical and Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century workshop on June 16, 2016. The activity will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at CSUMB Salinas City Center. This activity is for Clinicians & Faith Leaders. For more information, visit

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