Monday, August 30, 2004

The Decision of a Lifetime (

Last Saturday The Washington Post published an interesting essay by its long-time chief diplomatic correspondent, Chalmers M. Roberts, whose byline began appearing in the paper in 1949 (the year I was born), who retired in 1971 (the year I graduated from his college and mine), and who in 2004 has appeared for what may well be, at age 93, his last appearance in the pages of the paper he has served so for so long and so well.

The subject wasn't the Iraq war (truth be told, the story there is the lack of diplomacy displayed by the administration of Bush/43) or other international comings and goings, but rather it was Mr. Roberts' heart. Or, more accurately, his aortic valve, which -- like a lot of the rest of his body -- is starting to give out on him. The immediate issue that needed to be addressed this summer was whether to have open-heart surgery, which his cardiologist recommended, to replace the worn-out valve with a porcine one.

Roberts decided against the operation. His reasons display a, well, mature approach to aging and loss and the inevitability of death that strikes me as refreshing and increasingly rare. So much of what I see and deal with on hospital ethics committees arises from the exact opposite instinct: to fight against the inevitable no matter how long the odds are or how remote the chances of "victory." Winning, in Mr. Roberts case, consists in taking satisfaction in a life well lived (interesting career, happy and loving children, a 60-year marriage) and facing the end with equanimity and grace. This essay is a good reminder that "death with dignity" takes its meaning primarily from the goal of "living with dignity," and Mr. Roberts' example is a well-timed and generous one.
posted by Tom Mayo, 1:36 PM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter