My Father Is Dying

Somewhere around 2004 or so—I no longer remember the exact year—my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. We’d been wondering why his legs had been feeling weak, and at first had thought he might have cervical spinal stenosis (a condition in which the spinal cord becomes compressed in the neck). But when the tell-tale cogwheel […]

The Problem With Reincarnation

Photo: Fenanov

In this post, I’d like to consider seriously the issue of reincarnation. Or perhaps I should say, the problem with reincarnation. Though I practice Buddhism, I don’t actually believe in reincarnation. I suspect that my saying this will irk many of my Buddhist friends, who rightly consider the tenet of reincarnation central […]

The Best Disease From Which To Die

Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography

We can’t, of course, plan the way we’re going to die (with the obvious exception of suicide). We can, however, live in such a way that reduces the likelihood of our dying from certain diseases. Which is why it’s now almost universally accepted that we should exercise regularly, not smoke, […]


Photo: kevin dooley

I was bullied intermittently throughout my childhood, but in seventh grade it became particularly severe. One boy named Tim bullied me daily until I came up with the idea to pay him a cookie at lunch in order to turn him from my tormentor into my protector. That he accepted the […]

The Exact Date Of Your Demise

Photo: beatplusmelody

Human beings are the only living creatures endowed with a full awareness of their mortality, a wound so painful that they’re driven to pull every cognitive trick in the book to deny it. As with any skill, some of us are far better at this than others, yielding a wide range of […]

The Right To Die

Photo: rjhuttondfw

The notion that dying is a right seems nonsensical to argue: death is given to all of us equally without the need of anyone’s sanction. The right to die well, on the other hand—well, that’s another matter entirely. A good death is, in many cases, something our fellow human beings have great […]

End-Of-Life Discussions

Photo: 28misguidedsouls

When I was a resident working in the intensive care unit (the ICU) at the University of Iowa, one of my responsibilities was to communicate with the family members of my patients. However, an intensive care unit, as its name suggests, is an intensely busy place, and I often observed among my […]

The Double-Edged Sword Of Hope

Photo: Albion Europe ApS

I’ve taken care of many patients with cancer throughout my career, but one in particular stands out in my mind, a forty-year-old journalist who came to me with a diagnosis of a grade IV glioblastoma—a malignant brain tumor with an almost uniformly fatal prognosis. The reason I remember him so […]


Photo: The U.S. Army

A relative of mine recently died, so my parents, my brothers, and I went to his funeral. The rabbi was appropriately somber and talked about him fondly, as if she’d known him (though she hadn’t). His sister and brother stood up and told us all how much they loved him […]

Knowing When To Stop

Photo: Nicholas_T

“When do we stop?” my patient’s son asked me.

“That’s really hard to know,” I answered.

We were discussing when to stop making interventions in hopes of trying to save his father’s life. He’d been diagnosed with a severe gastrointestinal bleed from a stomach ulcer.