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Too Late To Operate? Surgery Near End Of Life Is Common, Costly

Nearly 1 in 3 Medicare patients undergoes an operation in the final year of life. The benefits are often limited, but the costs and side effects can be substantial.
Maxine Stanich celebrated her 90th birthday with friends and family in 2010, more than two years after her implanted defibrillator was deactivated by Dr. Rita Redberg to comply with Stanich's "do not resuscitate" directive. Source: Courtesy of Susan Giaquinto

At 87, Maxine Stanich cared more about improving the quality of her life than prolonging it.

She suffered from a long list of health problems, including heart failure and chronic lung disease that could leave her gasping for breath.

When her time came she wanted to die a natural death, Stanich told her daughter, and signed a "do not resuscitate" directive, or DNR, ordering doctors not to revive her should her heart stop.

Yet a trip to a San Francisco emergency room for shortness of breath in 2008 led Stanich to get a defibrillator implanted in her chest — a medical device to keep her alive by delivering a powerful shock to her heart if it started beating irregularly.

At the time, Stanich didn't fully grasp what she had agreed to, even though she signed a document granting permission for the procedure,

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