My mother was an active, healthy 91-year-old when she fell on a marble floor in her high-rise, badly damaging three vertebrae. She didn’t tell me or go to a doctor, so by the time I arrived in Florida four days later she was in agony, having taken nothing stronger than Tylenol. No doctor I reached that night would make a house-call. She kept moaning, “I want to die.” The next day her aide and I somehow got her to a doctor, who prescribed something so inadequate that she was screaming the next night. The facts blur, but eventually in desperation I called a friend, a pediatrician in another city, who said to insist on Oxycontin. I did, and that night my mother slept. And so did I. But the pediatrician also said, “This is standard medical practice. So your mother is 91? They...

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