In the first half of the 20th century most people who died had an accident or contracted a disease or had a physical disorder that quickly lead to death. Life-saving medical interventions such as sophisticated resuscitation, complicated surgeries, ventilators, feeding tubes and other life-support were rarely used or even available. Nowadays there is great emphasis on curing medical problems sometimes to the exclusion of recognizing that death might be a more welcome outcome.
Surveys indicate that older people are often more afraid of death than younger people. But for all Americans, young and old, there is a great fear of death and oftentimes family or those who are sick will go to great lengths to try procedures that may be ineffective in prolonging life. We need only look to the Terri Schiavo case many years ago – where even the United States Congress got involved – as a reflection of the attitude of many Americans who are unwilling to let loved ones pass on. Estimates are that about 30% of all Medicare reimbursements are spent on people in the last year of their life. It is a fact that much of this medical care did little to prevent death and prolong life.