Last week, the Eton College Medical Society was fortunate to welcome Dr Kathryn Mannix to the virtual stage. A renowned medical writer, author of ‘With the End in Mind’, and retired consultant in palliative care, Dr Mannix spoke to us about life and death. The pandemic has brought death closer to many of us than ever before, and conversations about it are paramount to feeling informed and prepared.  

So, Dr Mannix asked us, ‘what does dying look like?’. In many cases, the patient gradually feels very tired as they transition to unconsciousness, and for the majority of patients, death is not an uncomfortable experience. Yet counter-intuitively, to many doctors-in-training death is unfamiliar. Whilst illness pervades the corridors of a hospital, medical school primarily focuses on the diagnosis of illness, and not the methods for dealing with death.

Dr Mannix explained that when patients are suffering from incurable disease, palliative care provides specialist treatment to alleviate symptoms and maximise quality of life. To put this into perspective, Dr Mannix walked us through a few ethical dilemmas that highlighted the emotional and moral difficulties that medical professionals often face: do you provide treatment to a patient suffering from a severe chest infection as a result of a heart transplant rejection, or abide by their wishes to die at home? Can they give consent to this?

We would like to thank Dr Mannix for her compelling talk, which left us with the message that whilst data help us to understand how body systems can go wrong, ‘stories help us understand ourselves and our patients’.

Stories help us understand ourselves and our patients

Dr Kathryn Mannix