Stress blog

Technology can extend life, but at what cost?

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. July 28, 2010

I recently had an opportunity to speak at a hospital in Galway, a magnificent city on the west coast of Ireland. As I walked through the main doors and down the hall, I was struck by two signs hanging from the ceiling. The sign on the right read "Admissions and Registrations," and the sign on the left said "Morgue."

What a simple yet profound illustration of the finite nature of life. The Irish seem to grasp this more so than Americans — which perhaps explains why cemeteries usually occupy such a prominent place in Irish towns.

Modern medicine and technology can extend lifespan but only so far. Americans, however, seem to expect to be maintained on breathing machines or heart machines indefinitely. Surely this is a factor in the extraordinary cost of medical care in this country.

Every day in the hospital I see how technology can prolong life, but I also see that it sometimes means a dramatic deterioration in quality of life. Is it worth extending life at any cost — knowing that the final outcome can't be changed? I have no easy answers. I'd like to hear your thoughts.


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

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Jul. 28, 2010