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Cueing “The Conversation”


  • Nancy Berlinger

  • Nancy Berlinger, “Cueing ‘The Conversation’,”


In “Avoiding a ‘Death Panel Redux,” Nicole M. Piemonte describes how she tried to fire palliative care after first refusing to let it—and any mention of death, from any source—into her dying mother's room. One way to read this is as a familiar human story about the profound difficulty of facing death, a story that, too often, is reduced to the word “denial.” But Piemonte and Hermer suggest that there is another way to read this story, in terms of the structure that was absent from the earliest conversations and relationship-building among this patient, her daughter, and the doctors. If advance care planning had been part of the structure all along, if everyone—oncologists, patients, loved ones—talked about prognosis, preferences, benefits, burdens, and goals from the time a life-threatening disease was diagnosed, as a normal part of good care, would Piemonte have understood her own role as caregiver and advocate differently? If, early on, her fifty-year-old mother had been asked, “what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” and had been assured that this question mattered and encouraged to talk about her hopes (such as attending her daughter's wedding), might her treatment and care have been organized in a different way?

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