Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America

by Anna Dauer

The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America
by Ann Neumann - released 2/16/2016

In the wake of her father’s death, author Ann Neumann took on a project to cope with her own grief and dissatisfaction, ultimately examining death in many facets in American culture in her debut book, The Good Death. Her father’s death, wrought with delirium and in a hospice facility instead of at home, against his and her wishes and hopes for his experience, prompted Neumann to explore what comprises a good death, leading her to volunteer with hospice, attend conferences and rallies, and investigate this emotion-laden issue in a multitude of settings. Her firsthand experiences with rights groups like Compassion and Choices and The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network reveal an intimate look into organizations, personal experiences, and heavy and often divisive issues related to end-of-life in this country.

At once detailed and accessible, The Good Death chronicles the history of the modern American death, including landmark cases the reader will recognize as having changed the course of media portrayal of living and dying in America. Neumann deftly navigates these situations and humanizes all sides of arguments for what makes a good death or life. Through key events over decades, Neumann weaves vignettes of patients’ “close calls,” tragedies, and challenging decisions to highlight the personal, medical, legal, and challenging issues of dying in America today. She notes how experiences may differ by culture or socioeconomic environment and describes what death looks like for some more hidden from daily culture, but does not offer what a good death might mean outright.

While not prescriptive about how to provide care, at times even noting hospice philosophy as patronizing, Neumann provides a descriptive, moving base of knowledge for beginning to acknowledge the work to be done to improve the quality of dying in America. Her chapters’ titles pay tribute to a meaningful situation or story, but belie the impactful prose that illustrates the experiences she recounts:

  • Terminal Restlessness
  • Mortality Parade
  • Priceless Days
  • Double Effect
  • Hunger and Thirst
  • A Small but Significant Minority
  • The Most Vulnerable
  • Dying Inside
  • A Good Death

Spoiler Alert: Neumann does not define a good death. Her work won’t let us off so easily as that. But her writing will enlighten, inspire, and potentially enrage readers who are interested in the topic so often swept aside in our culture, despite its gravity and pervasiveness.

A must-read for physicians and those passionate about care for the dying in this country, The Good Death provides additional context outside the specific realm of health care, or rather reminds us how we might impact the daily living and dying for all Americans, no matter socioeconomic circumstance or credo.

More background information can be found on Ann Neumann's website: http://annneumann.com/ and you can find her on Twitter @otherspoon.

Anna Dauer, MD, is a hospice and palliative medicine fellow at the University of Kansas. This is her first contribution to Pallimed. A Kentuckian and an avid NPR listener, she enjoys a good dinner with friends at home or out. You can follow her on twitter: @DauerHPM.

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Ed Note - Links to the book are Amazon Affiliate links which go to support Pallimed with a small percentage of your purchase.

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