•  
  •  
 

Document Type

Article

Abstract

Current legal regulation of medical care for individuals approaching the end of life in the United States is predicated essentially on a factual model emanating from a series of high-profile judicial opinions concerning the rights of adults who become either permanently unconscious or are clearly going to die soon with or without aggressive attempts of curative therapy.

The need for a flexible, adaptable approach to medically treating people approaching the end of their lives, and a similar openness to possible modification of the legal framework within which treatment choices are made and implemented, are particularly important when older individuals are involved. Of the approximately 2.5 million people who die each year in the U.S., about three-quarters of deaths occur among persons aged sixty-five and older. As stated succinctly by historian Jill Lepore, “[t]he longer we live, the longer we die.”

This article outlines a few of the most salient clinical and social factors that distinguish the large and growing cohort of older persons, in potentially legally and policy relevant ways, from other population groups for whom end-of-life medical treatment choices may come into play. Some practice and policy implications are alluded to briefly.