By Khalid Pagan
“Our discussion shouldn’t be based in fear; it should be based in science, morality, and respecting people’s rights and views.”– Sen. Warner
At a luncheon hosted by The Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) spoke movingly and personally about a story that is familiar to too many of us- the difficulties that he and his family faced when being forced to make decisions about his mother’s end of life care. After his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, his father and sister cared for her at home until the final year of her life. The family had not discussed his mother’s preferences for the end of her life, and when her time came, it was difficult for the family to understand what she wanted and respect her wishes.
“This is about respecting what our parents, our grandparents, or ourselves want.” – Sen. Warner
The senator also paid tribute to audience member Amy Berman, a nurse who was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer four years ago. After her doctor told her that she likely had fewer than five years to live, Berman pursued palliative care to manage her symptoms rather than an aggressive plan of treatment that would likely have not cured her of cancer but would have reduced the quality of her final years. Instead of spending the past few years in a hospital, she has been able to scale the Great Wall of China, continue working at a job she loves and spend time with her friends and family. Patients should be empowered to make choices like Berman’s.
Sen. Warner believes that the country is due to have end-of-life conversations in every community, worship hall, and medical facility in the country. He emphasized the importance of all of us reaching out to our loved ones to have these discussions. More than 25 million Americans have been subjected to unwanted medical treatment at some point in their lives, proof that the health care decision isn’t listening to patient preferences. It’s an experience that too many of our parents, siblings and friends have gone through.
That’s why Sens. Warner and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) introduced the Care Planning Act, a bill that creates a Medicare benefit for people facing grave illness to work with their doctor to define and record their end-of-life healthcare decisions. The bill would also reward doctors for participating in end-of-life discussions before a medical crisis, and would fund a program that measures how closely health care providers follow a patient’s documented care plan.
Let’s help Sen. Warner get this bill passed so we can empower families to make the informed choices that suit their values.
“These kinds of stories are different than the rote emails or pre-functioned telephone calls we get on issues of the day. These are stories that touch people’s lives.” – Sen. Warner
Sen. Warner called on all of us who support the goals of the legislation to share our personal stories with our senators. We need to show that there is overwhelming and unyielding support in each of their communities for increased patient control at the end of life. Your story helps ensure that this issue is seen as what it is- a family issue, a bipartisan issue, and a universal issue.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW: The Care Planning Act currently has 6 bipartisan cosponsors, and Sen. Warner emphasized the importance of recruiting even more supporters from both parties. Can we count on you to help recruit your senators? Click here to write a letter to your senators and ask them to cosponsor The Care Planning Act of 2015. Make sure to include your personal story about your parents, grandparents, spouse, friend, or other loved one.
The Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment hosts occasional lunch briefings in Washington DC. Compassion & Choices is a founding member of the Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment, a coalition of 19 organizations representing the interests of health care consumers and seniors. Compassion & Choices is also an enthusiastic supporter of the Care Planning Act of 2015. The bill’s goal is to make sure every American can talk to their health care providers – doctors, nurses, even social workers – about how much or little treatment they’d want if they were gravely ill. Over 60 other organizations have endorsed the bill, which now has 6 Senate co-sponsors – 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans. Senator Warner is determined to take the politics out of this issue and get his bill passed.