Author Spotlight: Ira Byock, MD

Ira Byock, MD

“We need to move past our hesitation in talking about dying and accept the fact that we are not immortal,” says Dr. Ira Byock, author of The Best Care Possible and director of palliative medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “Once we accept that fact, we can focus on how to provide the best care possible for those who are incurable.”

For more than 30 years, Ira has worked with patients and their families to make difficult decisions about care. “The fundamental nature of illness is personal,” says Ira. The palliative care approach lends itself well to improving the quality of life and personal experience of serious illness, including the dying process. Palliative care is an interdisciplinary approach — each member of the team works together to improve the quality of life for the patient and his or her family.  “In the world in which we now live, the best care possible entails more than just having brilliant doctors. It takes a team of people — actually an array of teams — effectively communicating and working together.”

In his book, Ira explains that what constitutes “the best care” for any individual turns on highly personal decisions; therefore, engaging in shared decision making with every patient and family is crucial. In the book, Ira tells moving, heart-wrenching and uplifting stories of real people making decisions about how they live their final days. In doing so, Ira makes a compelling case that to ensure the best possible care for those we love — and eventually ourselves at the end of our lives — we must not only remake our health care system, we must also move past our cultural aversion to talking about death.  “Mortality is just a normal part of life and we must accept it,” says Ira. “The end of our life does not have to be horrible, you can in fact ‘die well.’”

Ira is also a professor at Dartmouth Medical School, a clinical advisor for the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation and author of “Dying Well.”

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