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What Dying People Want: Practical Wisdom for the End of Life

by David Kuhl, MD

It was only a matter of time before a book on dying joined the already groaning shelf of “how to” books. What Dying People Want is a valuable contribution – a frank, informed and compassionate discussion of the daunting issues around this huge but admittedly grim subject. As author David Kuhl observes, “Dying is hard work.”

As a part of living, dying involves pain, conflict, choice, and anxiety. It can also involve joy and even hope. With knowledge and understanding, we learn from the book’s many resonant anecdotes that the end of life might actually be life’s most meaningful time. Kuhl’s mission is to arm patients, their family, and caregivers with the specifics needed to speak to doctors, make informed treatment choices, handle the practical issues like finances and relatives, and deal with the overwhelming emotional burdens that arise.

Kuhl’s suggestions are specific – find out what to expect from treatment before it begins; request copies of test results; set up a family business meeting – and he does not hesitate to take sides. On the issue of pain relief his concern is empowering the patient. “Pain is what [the patient] says it is and not what I or others think it ought to be,” he writes, adding that the correct does of analgesic is quite simply “the dose which gets rid of the pain.”

Although clearly written and insightful, What Dying People Want is not an easy read, and it is one book most of us will be happy not to need. But for anyone living with a terminal illness and those close to them, this is an invaluable guide to a largely unknown and still-taboo territory.