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Hospice Doctor Helps Families Navigate The End Of Life

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Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

Dr. David Casarett is the director of hospice care at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He works with families as they try to navigate end-of-life decisions.

At least once a week, Casarett says, one of his patients expresses a desire to end his or her own life. "It's a reminder to me that I have to stop whatever I was doing ... and sit back down to try to find out what is motivating that request," he says. "Is it really a carefully thought out desire to die, or is it, as it is unfortunately many times, a cry for help?"

As for his own preferences, Casarett says they've changed. He's been doing research for a book he's writing, and in the process he's become more inclined toward aggressive treatment. "If I were to track my preferences over time, my preferences for treatment at the end of life have gotten much more ... optimistic just over the last six months. So it's a moving target."

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