A collection of articles I’ve published on end-of-life decisions.

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Failing to tell patients that nothing will help may only make them suffer more

Why is it so hard to tell chronically ill patients that further treatment is futile — that it might erode their quality of life without making a difference in their life expectancy?

Surgeons do it indirectly when they declare a patient “inoperable,” a determination of futility that people generally accept, maybe because the harm of ineffective surgery is so obvious that it can’t be avoided.

Feb. 26, 2018 in Health & Science


The author’s father, John T. Harrington, with one of his great-grandchildren, Libby M. Myers.

Mission creep doesn’t benefit patients at the end of life

When my father was 88 and the picture of health for his age, he taught me, an experienced physician, an unexpected lesson.

We were discussing treatment options promoted by his primary-care physician and other doctors for an aortic aneurysm — a ballooned segment of blood vessel at risk for dangerous rupture in his abdomen. He turned to me and asked, “Why would I want to fix something that is going to carry me away the way I want to go?”

Aug. 22, 2016 in Health & Science


Siblings Elizabeth H. Moore, left, Samuel P. Harrington, Hannah H. Graziano and Jane H. Coble worked together to fulfill their father’s goal of dying at home. (Family photo)

A united family can make all the difference when someone is dying

The blessings and curses of families are not limited to holiday gatherings, graduations, weddings and funerals. They also exist at the transition of the matriarch or patriarch from life to death.

Like many elderly Americans, my father wanted to die at home. He was clear on that point. But also like many elderly Americans, he gave mixed signals about what treatment he would accept or decline with that goal in mind.

Nov. 16, 2016 in Health & Science


Other articles by Sam Harrington