Providing Insight on End-of-life

Princeton HealthCare System Foundation Princeton HealthCare System Foundation

If it’s true that the most meaningful gifts rise from a donor’s experiences, then the story behind the Z. Stanley Stys Memorial Lecture Series on end-of-life issues proves the point.

Twelve years ago, when he was suffering from severe congestive heart failure, Mr. Stys and his wife, pediatrician Danuta Buzdygan, MD, realized that they were facing some difficult decisions.

“He was reluctant to sign an advanced directive,” said Dr. Buzdygan. “Talking about these issues is difficult and people have very different feelings about end-of-life care. One person can want to live only as long as they are able to be who they really are. Another may want to be kept alive as long as there is the tiniest hope. Stan belonged to the second group. Fortunately, he remained mentally clear and able to make the final decision by himself.

“When he was in the hospital at the end and I was keeping a vigil in the Intensive Care Unit, I had plenty of time to reflect on how we as a society—and particularly those of us who are physicians, dedicated to saving lives—may not handle end-of-life issues very well. When Stan died, I wanted to give an annual gift that would support a lecture series on those topics, to raise sensitivity and awareness.”

Out of her generous donations came the valuable lectures that take place during Grand Rounds at the University Medical Center at Princeton each year. Robert Pickens, MD, takes the lead in suggesting and arranging for the speakers. They have included Julia Quinlan, mother of Karen Anne Quinlan; Harold Shapiro, PhD, former president of Princeton University and chair, under former President Clinton, of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission; and this year, Princeton HealthCare System’s own David Barile, MD, on decision-making in geriatric medicine. Discussions about the future of hospice and of how to enhance the study of end-of-life issues in medical school have made the series relevant to veteran physicians and young residents alike. And perhaps just as important as those issues was the talk in 2008 by Richard White, ThM, former Director of the Chaplaincy Program at Princeton HealthCare System, on “Communicating with Compassion.”

“We’ve included social workers and clergy as well as physicians to deliberately broaden the perspective,” commented Dr. Pickens. “We are very indebted to the family for their generosity. They have brought important context to discussions at the hospital, in our Biomedical Ethics Committee and in the community.” As the former Chair of the Biomedical Ethics Committee and also of the Committee on Biomedical Ethics of the Medical Society of New Jersey, Dr. Pickens has been able to attract a diversity of speakers for the series.

Recently Dr. Buzdygan decided to endow the series. Now, through the Z. Stanley Stys Memorial Fund, other donors may contribute as well so that the lectures will continue in perpetuity. “It’s a good feeling to know the series will be permanent and honor Stan’s memory,” said Dr. Buzdygan. “These topics continue to be even more relevant as our population is aging and life spans are getting longer."

Article as seen on Foundation News, Fall 2010.