By guest blogger: J. Dietrich Stroeh

When you get to the end of a book, you simply run out of pages. Hopefully the author supplies you with a finale that is true to the story and its characters and satisfies you. The same can not be said for the conclusion of a life. Fate or circumstances too often step-up to provide a twist we neither choose, nor enjoy.

How Far Do We Want to Go To Prolong Our Lives?

continuing clock symbolizing quantity vs quality of lifeEven though advancements in modern medicine present us with opportunities to live longer lives and keep life threatening diseases at a chronic stage for longer periods of time, we know that when we or a loved one have a life threatening diagnosis, at some point a decision needs to be made. Just how far do we want to go to prolong our lives?

There are many factors that go into such an important decision, along with the notion of when to make such a critical determination and whether other people’s wisdom and feelings should be included. I found that one of the key considerations my wife and I had to take into account when she diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer was the issue of quantity vs. quality of life.

I’m reminded of a story my friend told me about him and his sister. Their father was growing older and the siblings had a difference of opinion about just how dear old dad should be living the remainder of his life. The sister felt that her father should go easy on the red meat, mix in more veggies and limit his intake of libations to extend his life. The son felt that his father had worked hard, saw his share of challenges and deserved to live as he chose even if it shortened his remaining time.

This situation illustrates both sides of the classic philosophical question: Quantity or Quality of life? This debate has raged in one form or another for generations and always remains a personal choice.  We each select which we prefer and that is the right choice for us.

Influences on Why We Should Want to ‘Extend Life’

Our preferences are in part influenced by our society. In America, we are raised to believe that for the most part, more is better. The Fortune 400 are celebrated for their ability to put vast personal wealth together, while a list for those of us who struggle to find our ways financially has yet to be placed in a national magazine. At every turn we are bombarded with opportunities to ‘Super Size’ this or that.

So many factors go into the process of thinking in terms of the end of a life. For example, a parent facing a decision about what kind of measures to take to keep living might look at the wedding of their youngest child as a reason to pull out all the stops. A fear of death could certainly make it easier to choose the quantity side. A professional or personal goal left to achieve might help tip the scales in favor of taking all measures to stay alive. Perhaps the least emotional and most pragmatic reason one might decide to leave no stone unturned, would be the concept of a cure becoming available. It is truly a human reaction to hope that research leads to a cure and that the timing will be such that you or your loved one will benefit.

Other considerations include treatments or drugs that could present a whole different set of challenges. If a treatment would put you or a loved one in the position of having a side effect so daunting that the original disease or condition almost seems like a blessing, it may be easier to say “let’s not go down that path.” If the fight for life has already been so difficult, perhaps one feels the quality of life has reached a level where there really isn’t much of an argument.

Finances can also figure into this. How will fighting a disease to the bitter end affect the rest of the family from a financial standpoint? Paying a fortune to keep yourself in a condition where every day is a new experience in pain may not be what you want and it may make life more difficult for your family.

Drawing these lines aren’t easy. Making a determination about what you or a loved one want is a heroic act. In exploring the question of quantity vs. quality of life, remember there is no one right solution. The process of knowing what you want may take time and deep reflection as well as conversations with your loved ones and health care practitioners. Knowing when to say when is a personal decision.

J. Dietrich Stroeh is author of Three Months: A Caregiving Journey from Heartbreak to Healing (2012 FolkHeart Press). For information, visit

 About the Author:

 J. Dietrich “Diet” StroehJ. Dietrich “Diet” Stroeh is an engineer by trade. He has headed up projects great and small, and managed the Marin Municipal Water District in the midst of one of the worst drought’s on record. That experience was the basis for his first book, The Man Who Made it Rain, co-written with Michael McCarthy.

He founded Stuber-Stroeh Associations, a civil engineering firm that grew into CSW/Stuber-Stroeh Engineering Group in Novato, California, with offices in Sonoma County as well as Sacramento.

He is a Director of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District and he sits on the Board of Directors of the Bank of Marin. He is active in the community and has sat on many state wide national boards.

In his spare time he can be found working in his shop on wood projects, restoring cars, and tending to the garden as well as spending time with friends and family. He lives in Marin County with his wife.

Three Months: A Caretakers Journey From Heartbreak to Healing, is his second book.


  1. Sylvia

    Diet – Thanks for bringing this issue front and center.

    My father, a brilliant scholar, died of pancreatic cancer many years ago. I will always remember that when he was really ill and was not able to swallow, he lamented that if he’d known that, he would have eaten everything he loved and not worry about how long he could live ….

    My mother died of old age and sever dementia just recently. The four siblings had to decide what to do when her quality of life was reduced to nothing. Fortunately, she made it very clear she did not want any life sustaining measure taken. We still had to decide on a very difficult decision, but in the end, it was a wise decision.

    At that moment, the whole family, including grand kids, told each other what they wanted, none of us wanted to prolong our lives with limited quality of life.

  2. Fay Badasch

    At 83 I can look back over this long life and know that I have reached all of my goals. Mixed in a conglomeration of experiences is a successful new career that was built half way through my years, a broken serious love affair, seeing my mother and older brother through long illnesses and numberless friends going through the years like pushing their way through a revolving door. I’ve had fun and misery, joy and sorrow, adventure and calmness. I’ve struggled and found comfort. When I think about what is ahead, the know that I pray for calm, peace, comfort and a quickness. There is a saying I have with my God – either let me sleep or let me go but none of this laying around. Some people smile when they year that – but I think if we’re honest in our hearts most people feel that way. What I hope for most of all is that those I love most will be with me and so that there is no prolongation. I have lived a long interesting life. What more can I want?

  3. Fay Badasch

    At 83 I can look back at my life and say that I reached my goals. I Have enjoyed some things and worried about others. I’ve seen my mother and my older brother through long illnesses and could write a series on illness, nursing care and nursing homes, hospitals, human shortcomings and human kindness. Yes, wondering about what is ahead comes from time to time but that is not in my hands. I can only hope that it will be brief and that the ones I love the most in this world will be thoughtful enough to be there with me. Having experienced periods of loneliness, I hope not to experience that when I have finished this adventure.

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