With so many up in arms about “death panel” rumors, the New York Times paints a picture of real-life palliative care providers, or end-of-life consultants. The Times follows one specialist in a field that requires its doctors to be “part psychoanalyst, part detective,” writes Anemona Hartocollis: He’s fine-tuned to take cues from patients as to how to provide the most comfortable last days possible—by discussing everything from what gives them strength (shopping, said one woman) to where they want to die.
Palliative care is a far cry from a death panel, Hartocollis learned in her yearlong observation of the field. “Their intention was not to limit people’s choices or speed them toward death.” Instead, while consulting on moral and physical questions and speaking with patients’ families, “they were more subtle, cunning and caring than their own words sometimes suggested.” Hartocollis focuses on the specialist’s four-month interaction with one cancer-stricken woman: Contrary to what you might expect, he never tells her she’s going to die. “Patients sometimes will be very explicit about wanting that information very, very clearly delivered,” he said. “Whereas other people don’t.”