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Primary care physicians rarely initiate time-consuming conversations about end-of-life planning for fear they might induce anxiety/depression in their vulnerable patients.

Moe Doiron/(Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

For more on the Globe's in-depth series on End of Life, click here

The Globe and Mail was granted special access to the critical-care unit at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and followed patients and families as they confronted one of the most complex questions in health care: How does one prepare for the end of life?

For several months, Globe reporter Lisa Priest and photographer Moe Doiron documented the journeys of four patients, each hooked to a ventilator, each grappling with a debilitating illness or condition.

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Their stories, while deeply personal, underline the scope of the challenges facing our strained health-care system: challenges that are medical, ethical, and even economic.

How much treatment is too much treatment? How and where do we draw the line?

And how do we distinguish between what we can do, and what we should do?

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