A terminal illness can generally be defined as an illness for which there is no cure and the prognosis is fatal. We all know that we will die someday but most of us think of this as some distant time. For individuals who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, though, they must face the reality of their own mortality and are forced to re-evaluate their lives and must make choices about how to best spend the remainder of their days. For the purposes of this paper I am focusing on the cultural differences between how American society copes with a terminal illness and how Jewish American’s cope. Coping with a terminal illness is not unique to any particular culture. How an individual reacts and prepares for their own inevitable death however is quite different depending on one’s past life experiences, education and religious background. Some know exactly what to do, while others may be devastated and feel helpless and powerless to do anything.
According to a 2005 Pew Research Center Survey, American’s overwhelmingly support an individual’s right to decide whether he or she want to be kept alive through medical treatment. 84% of those polled said that they approved of laws which say medical treatment which is keeping a terminally ill patient alive can be stopped if that is what the patient desires. 70% said there are some circumstances when a patient should be allowed to die while 22% said medical personnel should do everything possible to wave the life of the patient. (Parker, 2009)
There has been much debate in our society over whether physicians should disclose the prognosis terminally ill patients. Often physicians intentionally overestimate survival times when communicating with patients in order to give them a sense of hope. Studies however have shown that knowing of and accepting their terminal prognosis can lead patients to better end-of-life care decisions that do not prolong their suffering. (Schapira, 2010) It is important for patients to have all the facts in order to accept and prepare for death. Another area not always communicated well has to do with advance care planning. Many patients do not learn about options or talk about end of life issues until it is very late. Studies have shown that younger doctors are more likely to initiate conversations about end of life care options. (Pahwa, Babu & Bhatnagar, 2005)
Our society finds it difficult to talk about dying and euphemisms are the norm. It is typical for both doctors and patients to be hesitant to initiate a discussion on dying. Focus instead is often more often placed on interventions and actions for managing symptoms. This avoidance can leave patients and their families unprepared for the inevitable death. (Schapira, 2010) It also often results in requests for therapies which may be excessive, costly and even painful in the hopes for a cure. One study demonstrates that when patients are aware that they are terminally ill, the majority are able...