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The Good Death : The New American Search to Reshape the End of Life Hardcover – October 1, 1997

4.8 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Even as Marilyn Webb put the finishing touches on The Good Death, assisted suicide had come before the Supreme Court for legalization. In fact, as long ago as 1990, events had converged that led to cataclysmic changes in how Americans die. One such event was Dr. Jack Kevorkian's first assisted suicide. Since then the nation has struggled with myriad legal, physical, and ethical sides to the issue of assisted suicide.

Recent technological and medical breakthroughs have--in a relatively short amount of time--extended the average age of death from 46 to 80 years of age. The lingering, debilitating diseases of old age have become the norm; technology and medicine continue to dazzle, prolonging life without considering the issue of its quality. That search for quality propelled Marilyn Webb, editor in chief of Psychology Today, to travel the country for six years, collecting stories and information that reflect every angle of the subject. She examined the range of care and values in places ranging from tiny hospices to major metropolitan medical centers. She interviewed 300 physicians, nurses, and health care workers, even such luminaries as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Kervorkian himself. She let conflicting views air: theologians versus Christian clerics; those in the Hemlock Society against pro-life conservatives. She sought out compelling, personal stories--the good, the bad, and the ugly--and analyzed the pressing issues that had begun to reshape our thoughts about death, including the legacy of Karen Ann Quinlan.

The Good Death can be read straight through or mined for the lessons taught by various aspects of the issue. Whatever your approach, you'll want to spend time with The Good Death, whether relishing or reeling from the stories or just pondering the values that shape the culture of death.

From Library Journal

On the brink of the 21st century, the American way of death remains shrouded in secrecy. In a highly readable style, Webb, a former editor of Psychology Today, integrates case studies with analytical chapters on the legal, historical, and social aspects of dying. The latest Supreme Court decisions on physician-assisted suicide and the right-to-die movement are covered in this painstakingly researched survey, as are the field's prominent personalities, from Kubler-Ross to Kevorkian. Thorny issues surrounding death and managed care are also considered. Webb's message is clear: The modern way of dying involves excessive emphasis on exotic technology and too little reliance on palliative care. The book is richly textured with personal, international, and cross-cultural suggestions for remedying the imbalance. Important questions are raised in this book, which originated as an article in New York magazine, though the result is sometimes uncomfortable to read, and the author's reforms won't suit every perspective. This substantial overview is recommended for all public libraries.?Antoinette Brinkman, Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; 1 edition (October 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553095552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553095555
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,739,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Offering no soft, simple answers, this book gives a troubling look at many different views of dying in America. A necessary read for anyone interested in not just the spiritual side of dying, but the practical, political, difficult aspects of dying.
When I started reading books on dying (Final Gifts by Maggie Callanan, Patricia Kelley; The Grace in Dying by Kathleen Singh), I read books that gave me hope and comfort in dealing with my own mortality. This book made the hair on my neck rise up.
It begins by shattering illusions (the ones I'd built up) about having a pain-free, easy death. There are insurance companies, personal opinions, differing agendas of a variety of institutions that come into play.
In short, some people have an easier death than others. Webb writes in an easy to read, article style. She begins with a chapter called "Dying Easy", about the nearly beautiful, fairly comfortable death of Judith Hardin, who at 36 dies at home with her husband and children.
"Dying Hard," is based on Webb's personal interviews and experiences with the death of Peter Cicione. Cicione died a death more painful than it needed to be, largely due to medical staff's fears that this dying man was misusing morphine, might overdose or use so much medication that the drugs would no longer be effective (not true).
In "The Sorcerer's Apprenctice" and "When Death Becomes a Blessing," Webb focuses on the history of medical control of pain, the prolonging of life with new medical techniques and modern pain control through the works of Dr. Kathleen Foley, director of neurology pain service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
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Format: Paperback
The Good Death provided me with information that everyone should know! If you have a loved one facing a trminal illness this is the book that you should read. I was especially grateful for the information about pain management, about what to expect, and to learn why we fail so often in this country to make people comfortable in their final days, how our "war on drugs" has tied the hands of doctors and resulted in dying patients being under medicated, often times grossly under medicated even hospices, and what you can do to insure that your loved on will not suffer.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Everyone wants a good death; in 21st century America, far too few of us get that. After reading the terrifying outcomes of excessive medical intervention with the normal process of dying, I got my physician's signature on a Do Not Resuscitate form and proudly wear the tag warning well-meaning emergency techs to let me die in peace. Why wouldn't I want life at all costs? This book explains the all-important difference between living and simply postponing death for a short period of time -- at a terrible cost paid in pain and uncontrolled suffering, and leaving survivors financially destitute.
The fear of lawsuits has driven the medical community to do "everything" to keep life in even the most broken and damaged bodies -- when you find a pacemaker has just been implanted in a relative or friend with late-stage Alzheimers, you have attorneys and the medical equipment industry to thank. When an elderly ribcage has been crushed by EMTs desperate to restart a dying heart, gratitude goes to the same group of vultures profiting off the grief of survivors whose plea for doctors to "do anything to keep them alive" is often made from ignorance about the difference between a beating heart and the suffering that often comes with it.
"Life at all costs" is fine for the individuals who make that choice for themselves. But all too often that same philosophy is applied to everyone in the clutches of the medical community. Yes, pain medication can control almost all physical suffering. But if the medical professional responsible for delivering it believes the doctor prescribed an excessive dose, he or she can refuse to administer the needed relief.
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Format: Paperback
You cannot walk away from this book without a new persepective on how modern issues have affected the death experience. Marilyn Webb not not only brings insight to the reader on how death affects the family and friends, but also the dying. She presents a breadth of knowledge on so many point of views without pushing one or the other, because she knows death is a personal experience.
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Format: Paperback
As a writer and professor of literature who teaches interdisciplinary courses on Death and Dying, I know that Marilyn Webb's THE GOOD DEATH is the most important book in the field. Nothing can match it for research, insight, compassion, courage, integrity, dignity, and its holistic vision of life. I assign Marilyn Webb's THE GOOD DEATH to my students. I gift the book to my family and friends. As I approach the end of my own life, I hold this book to my heart: it comforts me in sorrow, it sustains me in joy, it helps to row me and to steer me, oh yes, across.

Robin Metz, author of UNBIDDEN ANGEL, winner of the Rainer Maria Rilke International Poetry Prize
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