To the Editors:

Patricia Benner’s article, “Death as a Human Passage: Compassionate Care for Persons Dying in Critical Care Units” (September 2001:355–359) brought back memories of an era we forget at our peril. She correctly writes, “Death with dignity has become a loaded term meaning many things to many people,” including “the absence of unnecessary heroic measures” for a dying patient for some and “not prolonging life that is deteriorating in its quality and continuity” for others. Her thoughts reminded me of the death of former President Harry S. Truman. Truman had earned a reputation as a politician who would not back down from fighting for what he truly believed in (thus the nickname “Give ‘em hell Harry”). He fell ill in December 1972, clinging to life for several weeks while a nation watched his battle with what became...

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