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Downtown forum to discuss "taboo" subject of end-of-life conversations

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

It's something that is inevitable. But to many people, talking about death, and preparing for it, is seen as a "taboo" topic. Even many doctors struggle to engage in conversations with patients about desired care right up to the moment when life ends. A conference will be held in downtown Buffalo Saturday that addresses the sensitive subject.

P2 Collaborative of Western New York will host a conference, one that follows up a meeting held last fall, to discuss how to start the potentially uncomfortable and awkward conversation about planning for the final stages of life. The forum intends to explore starting the conversation, creating a level of comfort when talking about it and taking the patient's personal desires into consideration.


"We need to talk about it. We need to figure out what our loved ones and our friends want at that time," said Dr. Anthony Billittier, Chief Medical Officer for Millennium Collaborative Care and former Erie County Health Commissioner. "We need to have discussions about it."

Many do not begin to think about end-of-life care until one gets older or when a chronic condition sets in. Advocates for "advance care planning" say young, healthy individuals should also have conversations and begin planning, starting with a health care proxy.

As one gets older, knowing about medical orders will be just as important, according to John Craik, executive director of P2 Collaborative.

"It's really the medical orders that, at the end of the day, will drive and determine what kind of care is provided to the patient," he said. 

Even when death is imminent, Dr. Billittier noted, physicians work to care for them by making the final hours and moments as comfortable as possible.

"We don't like to fail, and that's part of the drive, but we need to realize that, actually, allowing a patient to die comfortably is succeeding," Dr. Billittier said. "It's not failing, especially if it's what the patient wanted."

According to a survey reported by Millennium Collaborative Care, 80 percent of people say they want to talk to their doctor about end-of-life care, but only seven percent have actually had that conversation.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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