By Bob Smietana
When her health was ailing, former First Lady Barbara Bush decided dying at home is better than being in the hospital.
So she decided to skip additional medical treatment and receive comfort care at home in the company of friends and family, according to CNN.
My dear mother has passed on at age 92. Laura, Barbara, Jenna, and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know…
“It will not surprise those who know her that Barbara Bush has been a rock in the face of her failing health, worrying not for herself — thanks to her abiding faith — but for others,” the Bush family said in a statement. “She is surrounded by a family she adores, and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving.”
Many Americans would do the same if they could.
A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found seven in 10 Americans (71 percent) prefer to die at home, if possible.
But less than half (41 percent) believe that will happen. A quarter of Americans expect to die in a hospital (24 percent). Six percent expect to die in hospice, while 4 percent think they’ll end their days in a nursing home. Seventeen percent don’t know what to expect.
Seventy-percent of Americans believe comfort at the end of life matters more than avoiding death as long as possible, according to KFF.
Americans also want patients and their family to have more say in what happens near the end. Almost 9 out of 10 (87 percent) say patients should have more say than doctors (8 percent.)
And most prefer honesty over hope. If there’s little chance for recovering, 88 percent of Americans want their doctors to tell it to them straight.
Pastors may find members of their congregation are open to talking about death and dying. Half of Americans (53 percent) say they’d be open to talk about the end of life with a minister or other religious leader.
Half of Americans also say faith or spiritual beliefs play a major role in how they view the end of life. About a quarter say faith plays a minor role (22 percent). A quarter say it plays no role.
Forty-six percent say that being at peace spiritually when they die is very important.
The more Americans go to church—the more their faith guides how they want to die. Three-quarters (77 percent) of weekly churchgoers say their beliefs play a major role in how they want to die. That drops to 15 percent for those who never go to church.
Overall, Americans avoid talking about death. Only a quarter (26 percent) say “people generally feel free to talk about” the subject, according to KFF’s study.
Just over half of Americans (56 percent) say they’ve talked to loved ones about their preference at the end of life. Most Americans over 65 (73 percent) have had that conversation. So have 69 percent of married people.
Few Americans (11 percent) have talked to their doctor about how they want to die. That includes less than a quarter (22 percent) of Americans 65 and older.
One in 4 (27 percent) has written down their wishes for the end of life.
Americans who have lost a loved one say the health care system treated that person well for the most part.
Most say their loved one’s religious and spiritual beliefs (86 percent) and medical wishes (71 percent) were respected. Eighty-one percent say their loved one had family or friends present at the end. One in 4 said their loved one experienced more pain than necessary.
- Full Kaiser report
- Pew Research on views of end of life care
- The Art of Dying: Christianity Today Bible study
- The Art of Dying: Living Fully Into the Life to Come by Rob Moll
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.