Elderly patients are stunningly likely to have surgery in the last year, month, or even week of their lives, according to a new study from Harvard researchers, who looked at 1.8 million Medicare recipients over the age of 65 who died in 2008. According to publicly available records, nearly 1 in 3 of them had surgery in the year before death, nearly 1 in 5 in the month before, and nearly 1 in 10 in the week before, numbers far higher than researchers had expected, the New York Times reports.
Researchers say the numbers indicate that doctors too readily turn to painful and dangerous surgeries at the end of life. “I will admit to being guilty of this,” the lead author says. Surgery may “fix” a problem, “but will it let you walk out of the hospital alive?” But critics say the study is skewed because it looks only at people who died—ignoring others for whom surgery might have prevented death.