Hospice and Jimmy Carter’s Legacy

February 29, 2024


This February, as the nation commemorated Presidents’ Day, we also marked a noteworthy occasion for one of our leaders: Jimmy Carter, the country’s oldest living former president at 99, has now surpassed a year in hospice care. Through this time, Carter is showing us the value of hospice in ending life well.

President Carter’s choice highlights a profound perspective on life’s final stages, prioritizing quality over quantity. This decision underscores a natural journey towards death, where the body gradually ceases its functions. Hospice care provides guidance through this transition, emphasizing comfort and dignity. Carter’s lengthy duration in hospice has had benefits beyond what he and his loved ones gain from a caregiving team trained in comfort and quality of life. It has expanded the conversation about what it means to end well. 

Ending Well isn’t taught in medical school

Western medicine inclines toward keeping people alive at all costs. As, for the most part, it should. However, what isn’t taught regularly in medical school is how to care for people who are dying. Or even how different stages of dying present themselves. Instead, symptoms, which to the trained eye indicate a person’s body has begun the natural process of shutting down, are treated as discrete emergency events to be managed through costly and often painful medical intervention. 

End Well is dedicated to the belief that all people should experience the end of life in a way that matches their values and goals, and by over-medicalizing end of life, we deprive people of those possibilities. It is therefore a core goal of ours to advocate not just for hospice but also for the inclusion of palliative and end-of-life training for all medical students. With a deeper understanding of the dying process, healthcare providers can guide patients and their families in making decisions aligned with their values, preferences, goals and overall well-being as they approach the end of life. For President Carter, it was being there for his wife Rosalynn Carter through to her death in November.

Accepting that life is limited

“He was really honored and glad that he made it to the end with my grandmother, and that was a real treasure for him,” said Jason Carter, a grandson and chairman of the Carter Center board. 

Jimmy Carter, a man known for deep faith in both God and practicality, has helped us see that by accepting that life is limited, one can make the most of the life that’s left. And, maybe even live longer in the process. 

Want to learn more about hospice and palliative care? Check out these End Well Talks by Sunita Puri, MD, BJ Miller, MD and Tim McGraw

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