She believes that doctors can play an important role for patients in the final stage of life when recovery is no longer possible. Van Zuylen proposes that professional training must include preparations for questions and concerns that patients may have for this life stage. “Patients are helped when all questions, including those about the outlook of the disease and the expected end of life, can be discussed in a timely manner,” van Zuylen says. “It is important that (future) professionals are equipped for discussions about death. Thinking about the end of life does not start a few days before someone’s death.” She argues that it may be an appropriate subject at the time of diagnosis or when discussing the choice of treatment. The scientific question of which mechanism triggers a person to die is also important: “A colleague recently said: ‘We have been dying for thousands of years, but we know so little about the process of dying.’”
Lia van Zuylen will give her inaugural lecture on December 17th at the VU University Amsterdam.