I wonder how much the "death-denial" of the modern, western health care system is to blame for contributing to this dilemma.
Our health care system is designed to preserve life, and death is seen as a failure. In fact, morbidity (death rate) is used as a measure of the quality of a country's health care system. But the reality is that death is an inevitable part of life.
Palliation (symptom control) is only recently being researched, and there are many misunderstandings about it. For example, contrary to what most people believe, in proper doses, opiates actually extend life in the end stages of terminal illness rather than shorten it by lowering the metabolic rate. Also, recent research has shown that dehydration actually reduces pain and is a natural part of the dying process, making the administration of parenteral (intravenous) fluids in the last few days of life actually harmful rather than helpful. Also, contrary to common belief, palliation can also include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, gastric lavage, gastric drainage as well as medication.
I used to work as a counselor at a Catholic Hospice in Sydney, and I can tell you that the dedication of the staff, the excellence of the research and the mission of the Hospice were impeccable. Yes, occassionally, death was "unnattractive", but it was never "undignified". I once saw a nurse throw her arms around a derelict, alcoholic patient who started bleeding from their oesohagus, and she held him and gently rocked him as he vomited so much blood that he died within minutes from blood loss. This was not attractive, but it was one of the most dignified deaths I ever saw.
Remember, we have the Church to thank, not only for our hospitals (the first one was started by St. Basil the Great btw- a little known fact) but also for the Hospice movement and care of the dying.