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Cancer as the Best Way to Die

Posted 1/5/2015

Posted in

  And that may be the biggest attention-grabbing title of my blog-writing history. A former editor of the British Medical Journal, Dr. Richard Smith, has written an editorial to support this claim. As you would expect, there has been quite a reaction on both sides of the Atlantic. To cut to the chase: his argument is based on the fact that cancer almost always gives you time as opposed to, say, a massive heart attack or an accident.

  Here is my association to this editorial: A beloved oncologist and friend here, Dr. Roger Lange, used to tell a story about rounding in the hospital with the usual crowd of medical students and residents. They spent some time with a man with lung cancer whose family was visiting; the patient and his family were reportedly sitting mostly in silence, clearly very sad and hopeless. The hospital roommate was a man with severe heart disease. HIs family was also visiting, but the scene was entirely different. They were talking and laughing and sharing food from home.

  When Dr. Lange and his group exited the room, he said something like: "That is really a bad situation." The younger people all nodded and began to comment on the man with lung cancer. "No, no", said Dr. Lange. "He will be fine a lot longer than the man with heart disease. You are reacting the same way that most people react to cancer, and it is usually not correct."

  With no further ado, here is the start of the essay and a link to read it all. Please comment; would love to hear your thoughts!

Cancer Is the Best Way to Die, Says Former BMJ Editor
Zosia Chustecka

n a reflection on the many different ways we can die, including sudden death, the slow decline with dementia, and stepwise organ failure, the former editor of the BMJ, Richard Smith, MD, concludes that "death from cancer is the best."

In what he admits is a "romantic view of dying," he says that when cancer is the cause of death, "You can say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favorite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare, according to your beliefs, to meet your maker or enjoy eternal oblivion."

"This is...achievable with love, morphine, and whisky," Dr Smith writes.

"But stay away from overambitious oncologists," he adds, presumably to avoid overtreatment and also what he describes as a death that is "kept at bay by the miracles of modern medicine," quoting the Spanish film maker Luis Buñuel.

In fact, Dr Smith goes even further and suggests, "let's stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death."

The comments appear in a blog post published online December 31 in the BMJ and have provoked an onslaught of comments in response, mainly from relatives of individuals who have died from cancer, who say the death was slow and horrible, and also from cancer patients who are very grateful that research into cancer is keeping them alive.


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