There Are Worse Places to Die Than Mongolia

The country is a surprising leader in palliative care
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2017 3:16 PM CDT
There Are Worse Places to Die Than Mongolia
This July 7, 2016 photo shows the sunset over a ger at the Tsagaan Sum hot springs and tourist camp in Khoton Soum, Arkhangai province, Mongolia.   (AP Photo/Nicole Evatt)

A man lies dying of liver cancer inside his family's tent—or "ger"—as a harsh wind blows outside, where the family's sheep are hunkered down. His only wish is "to be without pain" as he dies. In that case, it's a good thing he's in Mongolia, which a massive piece of reporting in Mosaic reveals is a shockingly "good place to die." In a 2015 survey, the country ranked an impressive 28th in the world in palliative care—care for those dying of terminal illnesses—despite ranking only 141st in gross national income. When it comes to palliative care, Mongolia even outperforms countries like Russia and China whose economies dwarf its own. Mongolia is now a "shining example of doing more with less."

One of the things that led Mongolia to becoming a leader in palliative care is the country's increase in cancer cases, possibly due to high rates of hepatitis—as well as high rates of alcoholism brought on by a policy that provided families with two bottles of government-supplied vodka every week. Another factor: Dr. Odontuya Davaasuren. Odontuya watched her father and her mother-in-law die painfully of cancer at a time when painkillers weren't available and doctors were taught "simply to treat patients, not to treat them as people." Odontuya says "there was no compassion." But her mission to bring palliative care to Mongolia wasn't easy: the government wanted to know why it should spend money on the dying, doctors sometimes see palliative care as a failure on their part, and the word "palliative" is unfortunately close to the Mongolian word for "castration." Read the full story here. (More palliative care stories.)

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