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The Quest to Transform End-of-Life Medical Care Into a More Human Experience

In an interview at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine in San Diego, Shoshana Ungerleider spoke about the taboo topic we all eventually confront—death.

Ungerleider is an expert in the field of end-of-life care and is working to overhaul patient treatment at this life stage. She practices internal medicine at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and is also the founder of the End Well project, a new symposium focused on using human-centered design principles to improve the end-of-life experience.

While explaining the current status quo of end-of-life care Ungerleider said, “It’s really important for people to understand that, by default, you will receive aggressive invasive care no matter how old you are, no matter how sick you are, and even if it won’t help you. That’s our default protocol in the United States.”

Having standardized medical protocols for many conditions is crucial, but when it comes to end-of-life care, these impersonal and uniform treatment plans fail to honor the needs of the individual at hand. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because what it means to “end well” is unique for everyone. Because of this, Ungerleider’s core message is that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all treatment plan for the end-of-life experience.

Ungerleider said, “As a physician, it’s really all about making sure that the care people receive is care that they really want, and that they understand. It’s about honoring the way that people have lived their lives and looking at what’s most important to them and what are their goals and values for living.”

By bringing together communities of designers, technologists, healthcare professionals, and activists at the End Well project, Ungerleider hopes to overhaul the current medical approach to end-of-life care—and to ultimately make it a more human experience.

Image Credit: Api NZ /