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Your Health
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Antioch University Forum Tackles End-of-Life ‘Challenges and Choices’

Antioch University Santa Barbara is committed to exploring hard issues, and a Trustees Forum held Tuesday dealt with one of the hardest. Titled “Living Well to the End: Challenges and Choices,” the topic engendered deeply felt emotions from the 50 community leaders and experts who participated in the discussion.

“We chose ‘Living Well to the End’ precisely because thinking about death leaves us all acutely uncomfortable," Antioch board chairwoman Victoria Riskin said. "If we talk about it and face it with courage, however, we can start to work through our feelings about this most personal and intimate of experiences.”

Karl Lorenz, M.D., a palliative care specialist and health policy consultant at RAND, a Santa Monica research institute, kicked off the gathering with a short presentation. In it he posited the provocative idea that by aggressively prolonging life our society also prolongs suffering. The panelists then added their own thoughts.

Antioch’s Elizabeth Wolfson, Ph.D., urged people to start thinking early about death as a part of life. She quoted psychological theorist Irvin Yalom on how embracing the inevitable frees us to live our lives to the fullest: “Though the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death saves us.”

Oncologist Fred Kass, M.D., stressed the importance of having a close, trusting relationship with one’s physician as one faces his or her mortality, and Eileen Bunning, board chair of the Alliance for Living and Dying Well, assured the audience that Santa Barbara has an extensive and effective network of caring end-of-life options, a sentiment echoed by Holly Gendron, director of Serenity House.

Many in the audience voiced the desire to feel in control when their lives spin out of control. Quality of life was frequently mentioned as the standard for prolonging/not prolonging existence.  Others lamented the difficult choices facing the loved ones of patients with terminal conditions and severe dementia, because they had not been given specific instructions from the patients themselves.

Several people said it’s crucial to have “the discussion” with loved ones and prepare an advance health care directive before the situation reaches a crisis stage. That way family and doctors would know exactly how to proceed when patients could no longer speak for themselves.

— Barbara Greenleaf represents Antioch University Santa Barbara.

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