Hope or letting go: The final goodbye
July 6th, 2011
07:55 AM ET

Hope or letting go: The final goodbye

Anthony Youn, M.D., is a plastic surgeon in Metro Detroit. He is the author of “In Stitches,” a humorous memoir about growing up Asian American and becoming a doctor.

Ten years ago, as part of a Burn Unit team, I faced a moral dilemma.

Should a doctor give a patient’s loved ones hope no matter the situation? Or should he allow them to say goodbye when a situation seems hopeless?

The decision we made haunts me to this day.

I am a junior surgery resident.

I stand with my attending surgeon, Dr. M., a physician who has spent more than 25 years in the Burn Unit. We’re gowned, gloved, and waiting in silence with the rest of the team for our patient to arrive. The double doors fly open, and the EMTs wheel in our patient - Jerry, in his mid-30s, the victim of an industrial explosion.

Severe burns cover over 90% of Jerry’s body. I can see that Jerry is awake and able to speak through a large plastic mask blowing oxygen into his face. I help the EMTs and nurses sweep him from the stretcher to the table.

I look at Dr. M. I’ve been in the Burn Unit only a few days, but anyone could read the concern on his face. Jerry is fighting for his life.

The nurses spring into action. They cut off the remainder of Jerry’s charred clothing, place another IV and insert a catheter into his bladder. As Dr. M assesses the extent of the burns, Jerry thrashes in agony. The Burn Unit secretary pulls me aside. “His family is here. His wife and young daughter are in the waiting room.”

I look at Jerry. His breathing becomes more labored.

“We need to intubate,” Dr. M says.

The anesthesiologist, the respiratory therapist and Dr. M ready the ventilator.

I know what this means. A patient who has suffered severe burns over 90% of his body faces approximately a 15% chance of survival. If Dr. M puts Jerry to sleep on the ventilator, chances are he will never wake up.

I’m new on the Burn Unit and we are working against the clock, but I am part of the team and the moral dilemma hits me head on. I have to ask.

“Before you intubate him, do you think we should have his wife and daughter come in to say goodbye?”

Dr. M stops. He considers my question.

“No, Tony,” he says. “They don’t want to hear that. He’s in terrible shape and can barely speak. We need to give them hope.”

I look at the head nurse. She nods.

Dr. M and the anesthesiologist sedate Jerry, insert a breathing tube and attach it to the ventilator. Dr. M walks out to the waiting room to speak to his wife and daughter.

In a few minutes, he returns with Jerry’s wife. They walk to Jerry’s bedside where Dr. M pulls a chair over for her. She sits heavily, looks at her peacefully sleeping husband and holds his bandaged hand. When I leave a few minutes later to prepare physician orders, Jerry’s wife is still sitting by his side.

He dies less than 24 hours later.

I have no doubt that Dr. M believed he was doing the right thing. He’s an experienced, compassionate physician who’s saved thousands of lives.

Would it have been preferable for Jerry’s wife to see him sedated, peaceful and for her to cling to the slight hope that he might survive? Or would it have eased her loss to have had the opportunity to say goodbye, even if it meant seeing him in grave pain?

Ten years later, I still wonder.

Editor's note: The patient's name and other identifying details have been changed to protect his privacy.

soundoff (405 Responses)
  1. mouselol

    Well it's a complicated situation. For myself personally, if I were in that situation, I would prefer that yes, he be put in a medically induced coma to ease his pain, but as for myself, I would prefer to be given the truth and be able to say goodbye with the short amount of time left. But that's just me. Not everyone can handle that situation the same way.

    July 6, 2011 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SabrainSyria

      This physician knows the patient will likely die soon. He is thinking of what the family's last memory will be of their loved one. Would you want to be responsible for someone carrying the nightmare of your husband thrashing in agony during his last hours or have them remember him lying in rest in no apparent pain? What he did averted serious psychological trauma to the family that could have tortured them for the rest of their lives.

      July 6, 2011 at 11:22 | Report abuse |
    • Maqicman

      When the chances of survival at too low, I think Doctors should give family members a choice and a change of a last conversation. Psychological problems will be there in on form or the other but that decision should be left to the family member. Saying good bye would lessen the pain of losing a loved one.

      July 6, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse |
  2. maggie

    No one can know what the "right" decision is for someone else, but for myself, if faced with that situation, my very first concern would be to ease the pain of the injured person. I don't know that it is necessary to determine first and foremost if there is hope, but I do think it is imperative to immediately ease suffering. In my personal experience, saying goodbye extends far beyond death.

    July 6, 2011 at 08:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Baxter

    Sometimes, things in live scream for us to stand up and do what is called for. As a husband or wife, son or daughter this may require us to go past any point we had ever thought of. In the final analysis, doing what we should do brings peace. In my heavily considered opinion, this couple should have been allowed to say "goodbye" and no, she may not know she could have had that opportunity but it was what was called for in this case. A dose of fentanyl for the husband could have given this woman peace and closure with her ability to add her last words of love to this man's life. As a patient or a loved one, what is easiest is not always what is best. Hard call. I would bare no ill will towards anyone for whatever call they made.

    July 6, 2011 at 08:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Gene

    Wow. I can't even comprehend that.

    July 6, 2011 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Heidi

    Great report!

    July 6, 2011 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Chris

    I agree with Dr. M and the nurse. And his wife did get to say goodbye, but was spared seeing the suffering. I have been there. It was liver cancer rather than burns. But they told me she would die on the table. She didn't. A week later they told me she would die in about 1 week. She didn't. I was told many times how soon she would die that 1st month. She lasted almost 3 years. I saw alot of pain over those 3 years. And when the time came, she was sedated. But I still got to say goodbye.

    July 6, 2011 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Cheri

    Personally, I would have preferred to know the truth. Don't give me false hope, let me choose.

    July 6, 2011 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Joe

    I can't say I have been in this exact situation, but I have had both my parents and a sibling in final stages of life and each time felt the false hope. The exception was a blunt discussion with my mom's Dr to which he said mom had about 3 – 4 weeks left (cancer). While it hit me like a ton of bricks, I had time to say goodbye, knew how to manage my time to maximize my quality time left with mom and in the end, it does help. Again, not a split second decision like decribed int his story, but I do believe ALL should have the option to say goodbye if possible, do not make that decision on someone else's behalf.

    July 6, 2011 at 09:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jen

    Wow. Not the exact situation, but my mother-in-law was told her heart was too weak to survive surgery to remove her gallbladder-which she had to have because she was in so much pain. She refused to be sedated before the surgery so she could say goodbye to us. What she actually said was, "Now don't you two worry. I'm too damn stubborn to die on the table." And so she was; she lived another six months. But the choice was hers, not ours. I think it should have been the patient's.

    July 6, 2011 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. heather

    By the time I was finished reading this article, I had a definite position one way; reading all of your comments, however, I was able to see another side of it and to form another opinion that's a mish-mash of everything. So thanks to all of you for your very insightful points and helping me to open my eyes to other viewpoints on this. I think, after everything I've read, it would be the best choice to ask the patient, who was in pain but was coherent and seemingly able to make decisions. I know that even if I were suffering greatly, I would want to know the truth, and I would want to say good bye. I agree with Maggie's viewpoint above, stating goodbye lasts a lot longer than death, but in this case, maybe the patient is the one who should have been asked.

    July 6, 2011 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dfwmom

      Unfortunately, telling a patient that he probably will not survive can actually reduce his chances of surviving. This is the awful quandary that doctors face. While a doctor has a responsibility to be honest with the patient, the doctor also needs to temper the truth when a patient's life hangs in the balance, when a bit of encouragement from his doctor could literally save his life.

      July 6, 2011 at 09:57 | Report abuse |
    • Zeke2112

      That's really messed up. "Jim, you're probably going to die and you're in immense pain. Would you like to suffer for another few minutes while we go get her and you can scream bye to her while we forcibly intubate you?"

      When there's time and no immediate, excruciating pain, by all means ask the patient. When treatment to relieve pain and suffering is required immediately, the doctor's obligation should be to treat first and ask later.

      July 6, 2011 at 16:08 | Report abuse |
  11. dfwmom

    IIt is a fallacy that there is any "right" answer. The choices offered were both good ones, and they both have upsides and downsides. I find it interesting that we debate those last minutes endlessly as if controlling these few minutes can relieve our anxiety that we cannot control the real issue – death in all its incarnations.

    I am appreciative of the doctors who must make these choices, knowing that no matter how they choose, they would be criticized by some.

    As long as the choice is made with love in the heart, it is a good one. As long as the family cares, whether they are there at the bedside or a hundred miles away, the patient still knows in his final moments that he is loved.

    July 6, 2011 at 09:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. fvp

    its hard believe me, my best friend of 15 years who is a anesthesiology resident at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana. 4 years of medical school, thousands of hours of saying no to your friends because you have to learn so much, how to diagnose diseases and treat them, what to look for, learning what diagnostic tests you have to do.. in medicine you have barely any time to think things over. your attending physician when you are an intern treats you like your garbage no matter if you are doing the right thing.. medical student take an enormous amounts of psychological and mental punishment..... to save a life. doctors are stress out before, during and after medical school.

    my friend tells me the hardest thing to say to a family is "im soorry , your dad passed away, i did all i could".. and he works in the Emergency room and on call. he works 80-100+ hours a week.. its hard and never easy for a doctor to see a patient die , and even harder to tell grieving families what happened.. if i was a med student, or a doctor, i could not live with myself going to bed every night, i would have suffered soo much depression.... and thats the truth

    July 6, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brian

      I'm a board certified veterinary surgeon who was also a human EMT. The flip side to this is that you can make a huge difference in the majority of your patients; save their lives, fix their medical condition, help their families. Emergency medicine is a great specialty because you know where you stand at the end of the day.

      The great thing about interns and residents is that it makes you question what you do and whether you can do them better, or in a different way that may get the same result but provide more comfort to the staff and the patient's family. Pain control has morphed into a new age over the last couple of years. It would be possible to control this patient's pain for a few minutes to ask if he wanted to speak with his family, and keep him comfortable for a while, before being placed on a ventilator. Do you tell him he is going to die; no. But you tell him he is in very serious shape with percentages based upon the available data. I try to let the family/patient make the decisions with my guidance. It may JUST be a dog or cat in my career now. But that is often just as important to the pet owner as one of their children.

      July 6, 2011 at 11:51 | Report abuse |
  13. Susan

    Should not have seen him in grave pain. The right choice was made, for both parties – without a doubt.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Karaya

      I strongly agree. I think dr. M did the right thing. Jerry will live in the memories of his wife and daughter as they saw him for the last time that morning – strong, smiling, loving husband and father.

      July 6, 2011 at 10:53 | Report abuse |
  14. Bob

    I have been told by people "out of it" that they could hear me and feel my hand-holding.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Tomi

    This situtation calls for experts...who that is I am not sure. A doctor deals with this everyday, I however, would not want to see my family or anyone for that matter in that much pain. EVER!!!! Doc stand tall you did a good thing here!

    July 6, 2011 at 10:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. JohnRJohnson

    The decision Dr. M made was the right one for "Jerry", who was obviously in excruciating pain. Allowing him to continue to suffer probably would have hastened his demise. Being able to say "good-bye" is highly over-rated. What the family would have taken away from that experience is that Jerry died a horrible, painful death. Chances are, memories of their 'good-gye' would have been over-shadowed by that terribly memory.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jeff

    I am suprised few had concern for the victum. What was his thoughts? The pain was great but I am sure he wanted to see his wife even for seconds.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Chris

    Man, I love some fresh f-cking depression with my morning coffee. Thanks, CNN.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • beenthere

      Grow up.

      July 6, 2011 at 11:13 | Report abuse |
    • cathyR

      Chris – that's what headlines are for – and this one was patently clear. You can choose to read it or not. It's all about choices.....

      July 6, 2011 at 11:15 | Report abuse |
    • Beth

      Chris, you just made my day. Thank you!

      July 6, 2011 at 11:56 | Report abuse |
  19. Gary

    i have much respect for for a doctors decision, having said this, once the doctor is confortable that the patiant is not likly
    to survive, he should give that patiant the chance and choice to say goodby.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. nosnobunny

    All of the responses have been well thought out and like others have said, there is no right and no wrong answer. For me, the answer lies in the desire to ease the pain of the patient. I'm sure we would all like to have the opportunity to say a final good-bye but I believe it should be done daily. None of us knows when we will leave this planet so don't have any regrets with unsaid words.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Kyser

    This is a case where I would say both. Being a Medic, this situation has happened on many occasions out in a desolate outpost in a warzone. The one thing you can never do is ever give up hope, no matter the odds or statistics, in a life or death medical situation there are no gaurantees, you can do everything right for a patient and still loose them. Those close to the patient or person who is in a struggle of life and death should never give up on the chance of the person pulling through, but it should always be in their mind that death can come at any moment in a unforeseen moment, Thus Goodbyes shouldn't be with held at all either, but to give up hope is to give up as well. I know no medical professional ever gives up on a patient and thats how it should be for the Family as well.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. amy

    I recently lost my husband to a heart attack. He died in my arms at home. I know when he died, I watched and felt him leave me. Yet, the emergency room Dr. did his best to tell me and my children that his heart was beating a few more times on the way to the hospital. I know better, but my children can move on in their lives knowing the Drs. tried.
    Was it the right answer? I dont know, but I do know being cruel would of served no purpose. To error on the side of kindness is never wrong.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • nosnobunny

      Amy, I'm so very sorry for your loss. A very good friend of mine who just happens to be a medical professional went through your exact scenario very recently. Unfortunately she had to tell the ER docs not to rescesitate. She also knew he was already gone.

      July 6, 2011 at 13:04 | Report abuse |
  23. Al

    I have been in this situation. At least my patient didn't have breathing problems (yet) and due to 97% 3rd degree burns, wasn't in too much pain. But he was 12. We let his mom come in and talk to him and hold his hand while we put the tube in. I didn't tell he he wouldn't make it, but I definitely made sure she understood that he *might* not ever wake up. which, I guess, was my way of leaving her with some hope but also letting her have a chance to talk to him. I guess the good news is that, in the end, he survived, thanks the the Shriner Hospital in Cincinnati.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. phil

    Being able to say goodbye provides us with a sense of closure. This past December, my 43 year old brother sat down in front of both our parents and shot himself in the head. We were all robbed of the opportunity to say anything. I miss him, yet at the same time I'm filled with anger for the fact that he did that in front of them and then there is a sense of relief because the constant onslaught of verbal abuse is no longer present.

    Eight days later, my father died. We had an opportunity to sit with him and thank him for everything. I miss him, but at least I had the chance to be with him during his last days. Two months after that, my mother died. Again, we had the opportunity to be with her.

    Closure is something we need... However, in the case of this man with the burns, it would have been horrible for his family members to visit him in that condition. The doctor did the right thing...at least, in my opinion.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. carol

    I suffered a heart attack and the time it takes to allow your family back.. is wasted time there are things that both patient and family need to say to one another. No one should steal that from us.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. T3chsupport

    Wow, man. Deep question. I think I would want the most humane option if they were in pain, make the pain go away first and foremost. But with it being possibly their last moment, I know I'd want to say good bye if I could. I'd be more OK with saying goodbye through a medically induced coma than I would as they were writhing in pain and suffering.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Justin S.

    If I were the victim, I wouldn't want my wife and young son to see me laying on a table screaming in agony. That's not what I want there last memory of me to be.
    If I were on the other end of this situation, I would want the doctors to ease my family members suffering. I'll figure out my own way to deal with it.
    A doctor should always do what's best for the patient. In this case, I think they made the right call.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Amy

    It was the right decision. Visions of a loved one in torment can haunt the beautiful memories the we should be left with.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Josh R - Austin, Tx

    I support letting the family say goodbye. My Mom died suddenly a few years ago due to a seizure in her sleep. We were able to be with her when we made the decision to let her go. I feel blessed to have been there when she left this world and it has been a HUGE comfort since then. She loved me and cared for me most of her life and it was so precious for me to be there for her as she passed.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. bobby frank

    Having recently lost my mother I have to say that I am so glad that she did not have to suffer like this burn victim did. The doctors could have probably kept her alive for alot longer but our family had to look at what my mother would have wanted. We all discussed it and came to the conclusion that we needed to do what she wanted us to do. Have that discussion before the time gets here with your family and you want be caught off-guard.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Michael

    Does the stress of being in great pain put any added pressure on the body against recovery? Perhaps not withering and thrashing in pain might actually be a benefit for the body in trying to recover. It didn't succeed in this case, but I would rather have a 5% better chance at recovery then the ability to watch my loved ones acknowledge me as they wither and thrash in pain.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Howard

    Here's the dilemma: How can a wife say "goodbye" without removing the last ounce of hope and spirit from her severely burned husband? My thought was to explain to her that you plan to induce coma to spare him the agony of his pain and ask if she'd like to say a few words to him before you do because there's no way to know how long it may be before he wakes. As long as there is "a chance," most people will cling to that, and it shouldn't arbitrarily be taken away from them.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. name

    I personally think they should have sedated him after his wife and daughter got to see him. The doctor in my opinion was behaving more like a professional. However he may have hundreds of patients to see, so it is difficult to feel empathy for everyone. Alternatively, he might have seen first-hand families break apart under such stress and he was trying to shield them from that. Who knows.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. beenthere

    Some time ago my young wife was in a bad car accident while I was 1000 miles away. By the time I got to her she was gone. I would have gladly given my life for just one more minute with her before she died. Thirty years later I still feel the same way.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Veronica13

      I'm sorry. : (

      July 6, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse |
    • chloetini

      im sorry for your loss.

      July 6, 2011 at 11:53 | Report abuse |
  35. m

    How about a 3rd option. Sedate the patient and tell the family the truth. Tell them the odds, tell them the patient may not make it.

    False hope is agonizing, it's painful. It's a lie.

    I think this only served to make Dr. M feel better.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. taralynn

    most of us have felt how painful it is when you have a very small burn – none of us can possibly imagine the absolute agony he was in – first and foremost, the pain should be handled – end of story

    July 6, 2011 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. MarylandBill

    There was slight hope... I think the moral issue has less to do about letting the wife see the husband (since she was still able to see him while he was alive, if not awake, than it was for the husband. Now in that much pain, I am not sure I would be able to make a decision, but if I was rational enough to know that I was being put to sleep with a very good chance I would never wake up, I would want to see my wife and child (and a priest... but not everyone is religious) before I went under.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Darlene

    The patient was in extreme pain. Every second was excruciating pain. I'm sure the patient was thankful for the immediate relief ASAP. He was absolutely in no shape or state of mind to say "goodbye" to his wife. Accidents happen every second of every day and people don't always have the chance to say goodbye. I personally thank Dr. M for making the right decision. He is obviously a compassionate well-trained and experienced trauma specialist. Learn from your attending as you should. Keep your emotions out of the picture and do what is best for the patient.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Julie

    Read his book. I was privileged to get a preview copy because of my pre-med blog. Dr. Youn is a fabulous writer whether medically inclined or not. This is but a sampling of his compassion – his wit, passion, and empathy are well met in his book.

    (I am NOT a paid advertiser, if you are wondering!)

    July 6, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MisterFids

      JULIE, with all due respect, providing FALSE "Hope", is neither witty, passionate nor empathetic it is not even educated nor sympathetic, it deprived the patient a last visit with their loved ones, which even in excruciating pain has more meaning than you might surmise, see my story posted elsewhere in the readers comments for details.

      July 6, 2011 at 14:17 | Report abuse |
  40. Cindy

    My husband suffers from chronic pain as a result of a neuropathy. It is pure hell to watch him suffer. He has a pain management physician and generally can keep the pain to a tolerable level, however, there are days where nothing helps his pain. For myself, had I been the young wife, I would not have wanted my final goodbye to be with him writhing in horrible pain. I believe she was still able to say goodbye, even though he was sedated.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Angie

    I agree 100% with Dr. M. You have the think of the family at this point. They will always carry around that last memory of him. Better it be of him peaceful and sleepinig than for them to see him in agony and screaming. My Mother died in front of me so I can say, I have been through a similiar situation. You never forget that last image.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Neuroleptic

    I personaly feel there really is no right way to deal with a situation like that. I've had a few things like that happen when I worked in a nursing home. The resident would be in really bad shape, and the family would turn to me and ask how long they had to live, or if they where going to die. The best answer I was able to come up with was, "I honestly have no idea. I've seen people in a lot better shape than him/her die, and I've seen people a lot worse off than him/her live and practicaly make a full recovery in a matter of days. There's really no way to know." But even in that situation, the family could atleast be there. In something like the above, it's very much now or never. And since you really never know anything in life, there really wasn't a 'good' or 'right' answer.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. music4learning

    For me personally I think it would be a very haunting memory to try to say goodbye while someone was writhing in excrutiating pain on the table. I don't think it would be a very cathartic goodbye. I would only want to do that if I thought being there and holding a loved one's hand would give them some sort of benefit, but I wouldn't do it for myself. I think I would rather do it once they are sedated and at peace. Even then, I'm not sure that "saying goodbye" is the right thing to do. As others have said, even in sedated states often people can hear what you're saying and if you act like it's over they will too. Sometimes hope is important, even when it's foolish hope. Tell them you love them, tell them it's going to be okay, but don't tell them goodbye.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Country John

    The good Doc did the right thing. The last memory she has of her husband is one of him sleeping peacefully, not thrashing around in agonizing pain. What kind of image would that be for her to remember for the rest of her life? No, when it's over, it's over. Sew my head back on before you call the wifey in to say goodbye, please.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Sandy

    My suggestion would be to quickly explain to the patient that they are going to be sedated to help with the pain and then ask them if they would like to speak to their family before they are sedated, as they may be sedated for a while and thus it may be a bit before they are able to speak to them again. There would be no need to say that the chance is that they will not make it, will die under sedation, and that they will never get to speak to them again. That thought would already be in the back of their mind anyway. That way, there is still hope given–to both the patient and the family–but they get to speak to one another one last time...whether they choose to say goodbye or just to tell each other that they love each other would be their choice. That way...hope is not removed, but that last chance to say something to your loved one...to tell them you love them one more time...is not removed either.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. hogarth

    I agree with maggie, who says that saying goodbye extends far beyond death. My partner died almost 22 year ago, and I still grieve his loss. I was not told he was terminal when I saw him last – I did not say goodbye while he was alive, but I don't think I could have. I could not have known what "goodbye" was going to mean – and that I would still be saying goodbye more than 20 years later.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. RobS

    Dr M did the right thing. Either would have been moral, but Dr M chose the kinder route.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Julyfly

    I believe the doctor made the right decision. At least the wife could tell him she loved him, whether he could hear her or not. I would certainly want the opportunity to do that. At least I would know in my own heart that I had done it.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Spike5

    The family DID say goodbye. Just because he wasn't awake doesn't mean that they didn't get a chance to see him, to speak their thoughts, to share those last minutes. I said goodbye to my father while he was unconscious. I knew I'd never see him again but I still had a chance to tell him that I loved him and would miss him. At least I knew he was at peace and resting.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MisterFids

      Spike.. I have to ask, was it ALL about YOUR feelings & well being or did you want to give him the comfort of knowing that you loved HIM more than anything before he passed away?
      My Wife heard me tell her it was 99% certain that she would die, she said that was the only thing she experienced while in her coma, it made her realize what had happened & that IF she wanted to stay alive she would have to "gather myself up & fight like hell to be with you for just one more day"...my words to her provided the inspiration for her to fight, she survived a ruptured brain artery (Stroke), recovered & thanked me frequently for telling her the TRUTH.

      July 6, 2011 at 14:09 | Report abuse |
  50. Dolly

    The patient should have been told he was going to be put into a medically induced coma and asked if he wanted to say anything to his wife and daughter prior to that happening. Neither the patient nor the family should have been told it was a chance to say "goodbye" since no one knows for sure. If the patient comprehended his situation, he may have wanted to convey something important like where his will was, or something about the accident, or just being able to say I love you one more time. I do not see the moral dilema here.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sandy

      I agree...they should have been given the chance to speak prior to induction of the sedation...not to say goodbye, but just to say anything they wanted to...you know...like "I love you"..."We are praying for you"..."We will be right here with you"...whatever they wanted to say to express their love and encourage their loved one...and, whatever he might have wanted to say to them.

      July 6, 2011 at 11:52 | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5

Leave a Reply to john chiapella


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.