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Section members responding to this question drew on past crises for warnings and exemplars for contemporary sociology. Full versions of these responses can be found in Timelines issue 29.
The Cholera Pandemic 1854-1860
Perhaps the most poignant image of the coronavirus pandemic captures desperate family members, with tears streaming down their faces, their noses pressed against hospital doors, barred from entry to visit their loved ones. But families are not just tragic icons at life’s end; they are often its choreographers. A large national survey that predated the pandemic found that 70 percent of Americans over age 60 who required medical decisions during the final days of their lives lacked the capacity to make them.