Medicine: The Last Illness

Thou shalt not kill; but needst not


Officiously to keep alive.

—Arthur Hugh dough

Since the Victorian poet wrote those lines a century ago, doctors have become highly skilled in maintaining a spark of life in even the most aged and debilitated of patients. Harry Truman's last days underscored that ability—and raised again the question of whether such heroic medical efforts are really merciful.

The stubbornness of Truman's fight for survival at age 88 reflected to no small degree his strong constitution and will. As his personal physician, Dr. Wallace Graham, put it...

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