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Good and Bad Dying From the Perspective

Good and Bad Dying From the Perspective

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Good and Bad Dying From the Perspectiveof Terminally Ill Men
Elizabeth K. Vig, MD, MPH; Robert A. Pearlman, MD, MPH
Understandingtherangeofpatients’viewsaboutgoodandbaddeathsmaybeusefultoclinicianscar-ing for terminally ill patients. Our current understandingof good and bad deaths, however, comes primarily frominputfromfamiliesandclinicians.Thisstudyaimedtolearnhowterminallyillmenconceptualizegoodandbaddeaths.
 Weconductedsemistructuredinterviewswith26menidentifiedashavingterminalheartdiseaseorcan-cer.Participantsdescribedgoodandbaddeathsinasectionofopen-endedquestions.Participantsalsoansweredclosed-endedquestionsaboutspecificend-of-lifescenarios.Theopen-endedquestionsweretaperecorded,transcribed,andana-lyzed using grounded theory methods. The closed-endedquestionswereanalyzedusingdescriptivestatistics.
 We found heterogeneity in responses to ques-tions about good deaths, bad deaths, and preferreddying experiences. Participants voiced multiple reasonsforwhydyinginone’ssleepledtoagooddeathandwhyprolonged dying or suffering led to a bad death. Partici-pants did not hold uniform views about the presenceof others at the very end of life or preferred location of dying.
In discussing the end of life with termi-nallyillpatients,cliniciansmaywanttoidentifynotonlytheirpatientsviewsofgoodandbaddeathsbutalsohowtheidentifiedattributescontributetoagoodorbaddeath.The discussion can then focus on what might interferewith patients’ attainment of their preferred dying expe-rienceandwhatmaybeavailabletohelpthemachieveadeath that is most consistent with their wishes.
 Arch Intern Med. 2004;164:977-981
-nal illness achieve the bestpossible experience of dy-ing,cliniciansneedtoknowwhattheirpatientswantandwhat they want to avoid at the very end of life. Previous attempts to define good andbad deaths have relied on input from fam-ily members,
a combination of patients,familyand/orclinicians,
Other studies, however, have illus-trated that patients, families, and clini-cians may all interpret the experience of dyingdifferently.
Only1ofthesestudieslim-itedenrollmenttoindividualswhowereac-tively facing a terminal illness with an es-timatedlifeexpectancyof6monthsorless,and that study examined relatively youngpatientswithadvancedAIDS.
Ourgoalwasto study the perspective of older patientswithcommonterminalillnesses,cancer,andend-stage heart disease.A primary goal of this study was tolearnhowagroupofterminallyillmende-scribedgoodandbaddeaths.Wealsowereinterestedinhowcomponentsfromthesedescriptionscontributedtoagoodorbaddeath. To obtain rich data that were notinfluenced by any investigator’s precon-ceived ideas of good and bad deaths, weoptedtouseopen-endedquestions.Toob-tain additional information about prefer-encesfortheveryendoflife,wealsoaskedseveral closed-ended questions.
The design was a qualitative study involvingone-on-oneinterviewswithterminallyillmento determine the components of a good and abad death.
Participants were enrolled in a study to iden-tifythecomponentsofqualityoflifeattheendoflife.Physiciansfromgeriatrics,generalinter-nal medicine, oncology, and cardiology clinicsat 2 university-affiliated medical centers iden-tified potential participants with estimated lifeexpectanciesof6monthsorlessfromeithercan-cer or heart disease from their panels of pa-tients. Patients with these illnesses were cho-senbecausecancerandheartdiseasearethemostcommoncausesofdeathintheolderadultpopu-lation.
Physicians were provided with refer-ence material to help them estimate prognosisof6months(ie,criteriaforaKarnofskyperfor-mancescalescoreof 
From the Department of Medicine and Division of Gerontology and GeriatricMedicine, University of Washington, Seattle (Drs Vigand Pearlman); and Geriatricsand Extended Care (Dr Vig)and Geriatric Research,Education, and Clinical Center (Dr Pearlman), Veterans Affairs Puget Sound HealthCare System, Seattle. Theauthors have no relevant financial interest in this article.
©2004 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.
 on October 29, 2010www.archinternmed.comDownloaded from 
Potential participants received a letter from their physi-cian, introducing the study and providing a telephone num-ber if no further contact was desired. During a telephone con-tact from a member of the research team (E.K.V.), potentialparticipants learned about the study and, if interested in par-ticipating, gave verbal consent to be screened for eligibility.Screening exclusion criteria included moderate or severe cog-nitive impairment reflected by 5 or more errors on the ShortPortableMentalStatusQuestionnaire
andfailuretoacknowl-edge that they were seriously ill.In designing this study, we believed that those with sig-nificantcognitiveimpairmentandthosewhodidnotacknowl-edge that they were seriously ill might not be able to providein-depthdescriptionsofgoodorbaddyingexperiences.Thoseeligible and interested in participation gave written consent atthe start of the face-to-face interview. Of 41 individuals solic-ited to participate, 33 were eligible. Those who were not eli-gible had either died or were reported to be too ill to partici-pate. No potential participant was excluded because of a lowShort Portable Mental Status Questionnaire score or failure toacknowledge that his illness was “serious.”Of the eligible potential participants, 26 (79% of the eli-gible subjects) agreed to participate.Theparticipantsincluded13menwithcancerand13menwithheartdisease.Allbut1participantwereveterans.Themeanageofbothgroupswas71years.Allparticipantswithcancerwerewhite;5participantswithheartdiseasewereAfricanAmerican.Twelveparticipantswithcancerand10withheartdiseaseweremarried or partnered. New subjects were enrolled until “theo-retical saturation” was reached, that is, until no new themesemerged from answers to the open-ended questions in the in-terview.
TheHumanSubjectsDivisionoftheUniversityof Washington approved all study materials and procedures.
Subjects participated in semistructured interviews. One inter-viewer (E.K.V.) conducted all interviews at the most conve-nient location for the subject. First, participants were asked todescribeagooddeathandabaddeath.Responsestotheseques-tionsweretaperecordedandtranscribedverbatim.Second,par-ticipantsratedtheimportanceofend-of-lifeissuessuchaspres-enceofotherswhiledyingandlocationofdeath.Thesequestionswere answered using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “notimportant” to “very important.” Participants also answereddemographicquestions,completedtheYesavageGeriatricDe-pression Scale,
and were asked if they were depressed.
Anyspontaneous comments in response to the closed-ended ques-tions were transcribed verbatim by the interviewer.
Themes emerging from the interviews were incorporated intoacodingscheme.Transcriptswerecodedby2investigatorsin-dependently, the assigned codes were compared, and discrep-anciesincodingwereresolvedthroughdiscussion.Thecodedtext was entered in a qualitative analysis database and ana-lyzed using the grounded theory methods.Grounded theory uses a systematic method to divide andreorganizequalitativedataandtofacilitateinterpretation.Itin-cludes 3 levels of coding (open, axial, and selective) with theultimate aim of developing a new theory about a phenom-enon.
During open coding, researchers categorize data fromsources such as interview transcripts into broad categories orthemes. During axial coding, the properties of each categoryare characterized and the relationships between categories areexamined. Finally, in selective coding, the categories are or-ganized into a framework to explain the phenomenon.Inthisstudy,weusedopenandaxialcodingmethods.Thisprocessofanalysiswasusedtocategorizethecomponentsofagood and a bad death, to learn how themes contributed to agood or bad death, and to compare the content of responsesgiven by participants with cancer and heart disease.Steps taken to ensure the trustworthiness of the qualita-tive data included theoretical saturation
(no new themesemerged during interviews with the last 3 participants en-rolled),anevaluationofintercoderreliability
(assignmentof codesby2investigatorsacross3transcriptswas77%),andtheo-retical verification
(the results were presented to 2 end-of-life researchers familiar with qualitative methodology). Thequantitativedatawereanalyzedusingdescriptivestatistics.Thesedataprovidecomplementaryinformationtothequalitativere-sults and are included for descriptive purposes only.
Of the 26 participants, 6 with cancer and 6 with heartdisease described their health as “poor” or “very poor.”Eight participants with cancer and 8 with heart diseasedescribed their quality of life as “best possible” or“good.” Two participants with heart disease and 1 withcancer were mildly depressed (6-8 “depressed” answerson the Geriatric Depression Scale). One participantwith heart disease and 2 with cancer were more de-pressed (
8 “depressed” answers on the Geriatric De-pression Scale).Participants did not hold a uniform view of a goodorbaddeath.
listthethemesmen-tioned by at least 3 participants in descriptions of goodand bad deaths and the number of participants identify-ingeachtheme.Samplequotationsillustratingeachthemearealsoprovided.Noparticipantmentionedeverytheme.Responses of participants with cancer contained similarthemes to the responses of participants with heart dis-ease. The results, therefore, have not been divided intoillness category. Participants with and without depres-sion mentioned similar themes.In addition to identifying components of good andbad deaths, analysis of the qualitative data yielded 2 ad-ditionalfindings.First,althoughparticipantsusedmanyof the same terms in their descriptions, multiple rea-sonsemergedforhowthesethemescontributedtoagoodor bad death. Second, past experiences with death andwith inadequately controlled symptoms often influ-enced participants’ views of good and bad deaths.Probing participant responses with further ques-tions provided information on how a theme contrib-uted to a good or bad death. Participants offered severalreasons why dying in one’s sleep was associated with agooddeath,forinstance.Explanationsincludedthatthedying individual would (1) not know death was immi-nent, (2) not be in pain at the moment of death, and (3)die quickly, peacefully, or easily. As one individual de-scribed, “Oh, just going to sleep one night and not wak-ing up. It would be a very easy, fast way to go, no drugs,no side effects, so to me that would be real easy.”Elevenparticipantsidentifiedprolongeddyingwithabaddeath.Tosome,prolongeddyingmeanthavingpro-longed pain. Several others believed that prolonged dy-ing would cause their families to suffer. They expressedconcerns about the emotional, financial, and caregiver
©2004 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.
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burdenstolovedonesthatwouldbeassociatedwithpro-longed dying. One explained,
I don’t want to hang around. That just makes it miserable foreverybody around you. You know, your kids and everythingcome to see you, and they say, I wonder how long Dad’s gotnow.TheyputtheirarmsaroundMomandconsoleher,letherknow that they’re with her when the time comes.
Those participants who identified suffering with a baddeath were asked to explain why. To some, “suffering”meant being dependent on others. One participant de-scribedtheendofhisaunt’slifeasheexplainedhowsuf-fering, to him, meant being dependent:
 Justlayingandsufferingornotbeingabletodosomethingwouldbe bad . . . She couldn’t feed herself. She couldn’t do nothing.Then toward the end, they even had to feed her intravenouslyto keep her alive.
To others, suffering meant being in pain. For example,another participant explained, by describing the end of his mother’s life, how suffering meant having pain:
And my mother seemed to suffer at the end. She was losing herlegs from diabetes, and she was in a lot of pain, or at least shefelt like she was. She was in a coma, but she could—she wouldmoanandallifanybodytouchedher,especiallyherlegs.Soyouknewthatshewas—ifshewasconscious,shewassuffering . . .
Participantsdefinitionsofgoodandbaddeathswereofteninfluencedbypastexperiences.Asillustratedinthepreviousparagraph,someparticipantsdescriptionsofbaddeathswereinfluenced,inpart,bydeathsoflovedones.One participant described a good death:
. . . my granddad, he just sat down in a chair one morning, arocking chair, and he said he felt a little cool. And she [par-ticipant’s grandmother] said, I’ll get you a blanket. And whenshe came back with the blanket, he was gone.
Anotherparticipantrecalledthedeathofahospitalroom-matewhenhehadbeenapatientinanintensivecareunit.He described listening to his roommate die with short-nessofbreathas,“theworstthingthateverhappenedtome.” This participant had also experienced shortness of breath firsthand:
. . . you’re on one of these ventilators, if you’re in the hospi-tal,whenthey—whentheydon’tworkquiteright.AndI’vehadthat happen to me. And you can’t get enough oxygen quite.
Because of his past experiences with the death of his hos-pitalroommateandwithhisowndyspnea,thisparticipantdescribedabaddeathasonewithshortnessofbreath,“IhopeIdon’tdielikethat,whenyou’refightingtogetyourbreath.”
Table 3
gives the participants’ responses to theclosed-endedquestions.Althoughmostparticipants(20
Table 1. Components of Good Deaths and Illustrative Quotations
“In my sleep” (n = 14) “A good death, for me, would be to slip away quietly in my sleep, by and large, with no pain or tospeak of or I just—when the time comes, I’d see the Lord and just like stepping off a platform andsays, Here I am. That’s about it.”Quick (n = 11) A good death? 85 [years old] of a heart attack inwalking through the trees and I was out beforeI hit the ground. Other than that, I think’re all kind of bad.”Painless (n = 11) But I guess if you get a lot of pain like I had before, death would have been kind of a welcome—welcome sight because I was hurting pretty bad.”Without suffering (n = 5) “Good death is like my buddy that I ran around with for many, many years . . . he woke here a coupleyears ago, and he told his wife, you know, I feel kind of funny. And he went in, and he got down onhis knees . . . and died. Boom. Never suffered a day, never suffered an hour even.”Peace with God (n = 3) “I would say that a good death would be a death where you were sure that . . . you’ve made yourpeace with God; you’ve made sure your family’s taken care of, and there’s no need to worry.”Peaceful (n = 3) “A good death? Well, to just leave this world in the peaceful manner, of course, naturally. I know thatI’ll have pain and somewhat—a little suffering, but I can endure that if I just leave this earth wellthought of.”Without knowledge of impending death (n = 3) “Go quietly in sleep, I guess. I think that would be the nicest way to go. . . . Well, I guess you don’tknow it until you get there, you know.”
Table 2. Components of Bad Deaths and Illustrative Quotations
Painful (n = 12) “To be in severe—ultra severe pain under whether there’s no control. . . . And it goes on and on and youcan’t control it or do anything about it . . . it’s just awful, awful. That to me would be the worst kind.”Prolonged (n = 11) “Oh, to linger and drag on and take a long time. It would make it hard on people and everything. Peoplemore or less accept that you’re going to die, but if you prolong it, it just makes it harder on them.”Dependent (n = 8) “Being hooked up with those monitors and then laying there for days and stuff and you hurt; you can’tcomplain, you can’t do anything. That’s a bad way to go. I don’t want that. That’s the reason I says noresuscitation.”Suffering (n = 7) “And I really don’t want to suffer, but I’ve done a lot of that, and I’m not totally afraid of it. . . . Well, goingto the hospital is suffering for me. And I’ve been through some torture that I consider pretty terrible.”Burdening others (n = 5) “If I were bedridden and had to have my wife and some other people take care of me, I wouldn’t want tostick around a minute.”“Drowning” or shortness of breath (n = 4) “Maybe, maybe before I lose all my breathing, some other organ will take—take me. And I’ve prayedfor that.”“Not right with God(n = 3) “Not being with—with the Lord would be a bad death. Not being right in the Lord and with your family.”
©2004 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.
 on October 29, 2010www.archinternmed.comDownloaded from 

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