A century ago, most people who suffered major injuries or contracted serious infections died soon afterward. Most people expected little more than comfort measures from doctors. Today, because medical procedures commonly extend the lives of people who have serious illnesses, death is often seen as an event that can be deferred indefinitely. However, death is an intrinsic part of life, and talking about the likely outcomes of illness, including death and dying, is an important part of health care.
Doctors and patients vary in the language they use and in their comfort level regarding such discussions. People also vary in their comfort level regarding the amount of information and involvement in decision making that they want. Dying people and their loved ones should generally try to understand their situation and likely future course and to make any preferences about treatment and family support known (see Legal and Ethical Issues: Advance Directives). People who do not wish to talk about death and dying with their doctor should understand that major decisions will often then be made without their input.
Last full review/revision October 2007 by Joanne Lynn, MD, MA, MS