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Continued: Mandela magnifies difficulties of end-of-life decisions; death 'is not a straight line down'

  • Article by: LINDSEY TANNER , AP Medical Writer
  • Last update: June 28, 2013 - 4:50 PM

Schaffner went through the same experience with his mother. She died 10 years ago at age 84 after several strokes and then pneumonia.

When she was still lucid, the family discussed end-of-life care. She did not want to be kept alive on a ventilator. So when she developed pneumonia and was hospitalized, she got comfort care — fluids, antibiotics and sedatives to calm her anxiety over struggling to breathe — but no intensive treatments with fancy machines.

After several days, when it became clear "there was zero chance she was going to turn around," the family brought her home, with hospice care, and she died less than two weeks after falling ill, Schaffner said.

Loretta Downs, former president of the Chicago End-of-Life Care Coalition, said decisions about life support should turn around the patient's wishes.

"Very often it's not the person who's dying's choice," but the family's, she said. "Now that we can prolong dying there's this whole question of are we prolonging dying versus prolonging living? It's not comfortable to be on life support."

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AP Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione contributed from Milwaukee and Andrew Meldrum contributed from Johannesburg.

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