Narrator: This is Science Today. Medical anthropologist Sharon Kaufman, of the University of California, San Francisco, studies death and dying and how medical systems are organized around such events. Her research has found that it's the family members who know the least about the process.
Kaufman: They know the least about disease process, they know the least about the way the hospital functions, they know the least about life extending, intensive care treatments that are to be given. They don't even know what those are or what those are for. Yet, they're the ones in very emotionally wrenching and surprising for them circumstances, are told - we need a decision.
Narrator: Adding to this, situations can change rapidly.
Kaufman: When one comes to the hospital in an emergency or when one can't breathe and there's a life-threatening situation. People then say, patients then say, help me breath and then of course, all of the armamentarium of the hospital medicine goes into play and life is prolonged by machines.
Narrator: Kaufman says talk with family and close friends about such decisions and scenarios. For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.