"There is an unspoken dark side of American medicine--keeping patients alive at all costs. Two thirds of Americans die in healthcare institutions tethered to machines and tubes, even though research indicates that most prefer to die at home in comfort, surrounded by loved ones. The question How do you want to live? must be posed to the seriously ill because they deserve to choose. If doctors explain options--including the choice to forego countless medical interventions that are often of little benefit--then patients can tell doctors how they wish to spend the remainder of their lives. A doctor's heroic efforts to prolong a life can instead prolong that patient's death, and these traumatic measures also bankrupt the healthcare system. One third of the Medicare budget is spent on the last six months of life, often on technological interventions that are not helpful and inflict more suffering. Through the stories of six patients and six very different end-of-life experiences, Volandes explores the trajectory of events and treatments that occur with and without this essential conversation. He argues for a radical re-envisioning of the patient-doctor relationship--including videos to spark discussions--and offers ways for patients and their families to talk about this difficult issue to ensure that patients will be at the center and in charge of their medical care"--Provided by publisher.
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer, yet her cells--taken without her knowledge--became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer and viruses; helped lead to in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks is buried in an unmarked grave. Her family did not learn of her "immortality" until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. The story of the Lacks family is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of--From publisher description.