The “D” word

Danielle Ofri reflects on doctors’ discomfort with death.

When I started my clinical clerkships, I began to hear the verb “expire” more frequently, and gradually it ceased to sound strange. As an intern, I witnessed my first deaths and was responsible for writing “expiration notes” in patients’ charts. Cartons of milk had expiration dates. Coupons expired. I guessed people could too.

I could understand why other people might prefer euphemisms for death, but why medical professionals? Weren’t we supposed to be much more comfortable with the workings of the human body? Didn’t we pride ourselves on our technical accuracy? Didn’t we say “umbilicus” instead of “belly button”? Didn’t we refer to the “lower extremity” instead of the “leg”?

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