Hospital wants to know: How do you want to die?

“Death comes slowly, with a pink carnation and weeks of debate.

When the elevator doors open onto an upper ward of the intensive care unit, an elderly woman exits with a breath — short, shallow and utterly insufficient.

Her heart failing in her 80s, she is ready to die, but her family is not.

The moderators are put on notice.

They are Toronto General Hospital’s palliative care team, and they are the mediators of unevenly pitched conflicts: often between patients and their loved ones, always between life and death.

When the time comes, she will die in a room, a borrowed space, across from the nurse’s station, near the big whiteboard where staff write and rewrite the names and locations of patients in red erasable marker, keeping score in an ongoing game of musical chairs.

A faded sticker of a pink carnation is stuck next to her name — like punctuation. It’s a reminder to staff that all that might be done to save her will not save her, and may even bring the inevitable sooner.

It’s a sign, too, that the negotiations between her family, her doctors and the end-of-life liaisons are underway.

“HOW DO YOU want to die?” isn’t a question on most hospital admissions forms. But like most choices in life, wait too long and it will be made for you. Often by a stranger.” More


About The Rev. Thomas C. Jackson

Ordained to the priesthood in December, 2010.
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