From the September 1, 2011 New England Journal of Medicine, a letter to the editor by Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee:
To the Editor:
In their Perspective (May 19 issue),1 Astrow and Popp assert that New York’s Palliative Care Information Act was passed without “adequate consultation” with physicians. They bemoan physicians’ new responsibility to either share crucial decision-making information with their terminally ill patients or risk accountability for unprofessional conduct. As an advocate for dying patients, my organization, Compassion and Choices, pursues legislated mandates only as a last resort. The results of the Study to Understand Prognoses and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatments (SUPPORT)2 was the wake-up call that prompted a 10-year, $350-million push to educate physicians and coax them to inform patients about end-of-life options and to honor their final wishes. That Herculean effort spawned many new policy statements and a new subspecialty: palliative care. But the information most patients receive before consenting to treatment as death nears remains woefully inadequate. Dying patients cannot wait forever for physicians to grant them the tools of informed decision making about disease-focused and palliative treatments at life’s end. Astrow and Popp are correct in pointing out that information is just the first step in beginning a sensitive, intimate dialogue. But without an informed patient, a meaningful dialogue cannot even begin.
Barbara Coombs Lee, J.D., P.A.
Compassion and Choices, Portland, OR