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November 18, 1983

The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying

Author Affiliations

University of Minnesota Medical School Minneapolis

JAMA. 1983;250(19):2702. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03340190094046

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Physicians are dedicated to countering death. The new technologies of medicine focus on this end. Therefore, heart transplants, intrauterine surgery, and possible tissue transplants from fetal brains to injured brains are among issues at the frontier of medicine. The focus on finding a cure is so pervasive that the physician comes to regard death as a medical failure rather than a natural event. When Barney Clark died, his mechanical heart went on beating.

This book does not focus on medicine's treatment approaches to counter death but on attitudes and social customs prevalent in regarding death. Many physicians in emphasizing technical issues are less prepared to deal with these facets. It is pointed out in the book that until the beginning of this century, death took place in the home with all family members present and participating, at times even building the coffin. The physician was almost peripheral. Today, the role