B.J. Miller was a sophomore at Princeton University when he had an accident that involved being shocked by eleven-thousand volts of electricity. Doctors were forced to amputate both of his legs and his left arm, leaving him not only a triple amputee but internally, in turmoil. Miller’s backstory is important because it eventually led him to think of his suffering simply as a “variation on a theme we all deal with – to be human is really hard.” His accident, and the path he followed in his recovery and rediscovery of himself, eventually led to medical school and a focus on palliative care for others. Believing his recovery to be a transformation, Miller now argues that all suffering offers the same opportunity, even at the end of life. In a recent talk, Miller said:
“Parts of me died early on. And that’s something, one way or another, we can all say. I got to redesign my life around this fact, and I tell you it has been a liberation to realize you can always find a shock of beauty or meaning in what life you have left.”
Miller served five years as executive director of the Zen Hospice Project, a pioneering hospice in San Francisco that has come to embody a growing effort around the country to reclaim death as a human experience instead of primarily a medical one. Miller has also become a renowned speaker on the subject of death and dying.
The article on B.J. featured in the New York Times is a stunning look at his life and his important work. It also tells the story of a patient of his, allowing us an intimate glimpse into the end of a life and the significance of Dr. Miller’s quest to change the way we die.
Consider also listening to B.J. Miller’s Ted Talk here: https://www.ted.com/speakers/bj_miller