Wishing to be at home, still millions die in Intensive Care Units
CBS News will broadcast a story this Sunday, Nov. 22, at 7 p.m. ET/PT on dying in America. Compassion & Choices, the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit working to expand end-of-life care and choice, today applauded the effort to highlight how many Americans meet death in contradiction to their values, beliefs and stated desires, but disagrees with the focus on cost.
“Families cannot imagine there could be anything worse than their loved one dying. But in fact, there are things worse,” says Dr. Ira Byock in the broadcast. “Most generally, it’s having someone you love die badly – dying, suffering, dying connected to machines.” Byock heads the palliative care program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.
“Much end-of-life care merely prolongs a miserable dying process,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion and Choices. “As individuals face the end of life, and try to navigate the health care system, their own values and choices should be paramount. We know the greatest tragedy is the human cost, not the monetary cost.”
The story of Margaret Furlong demonstrates how badly end-of-life care can stray from patient wishes. Margaret entered the hospital with an advance directive, stating she was not to receive CPR or extraordinary efforts to keep her alive. Suffering from ulcers on her shoulder and hip, she was in constant pain. The hospital had Furlong’s advance directive, but mistakenly believed she wanted every effort to keep her alive.
Margaret suffered cardiac arrested and was put on a mechanical ventilator and transferred to the ICU. Hospital personnel inserted tubes into her mouth and down her throat to her lungs, up her nostrils, into her bladder and into her veins. She was tied to her bed to keep her from pulling all these many tubes from her body. She lived for 10 more days in extreme pain.
“Stories like Margaret’s remain common across the nation,” said Coombs Lee. “Too many people die in pain. Too many suffer needlessly. Too many linger in distress, tied down and attached to tubes and machines as their advance directives go unheeded. Our nation can do better and we must do better.”
Compassion & Choices is a national organization serving patients and their families, advocating for expanding legal end-of-life choices, and educating the public. Our experts are available for interviews.
Individuals seeking information about end-of-life decisions can access our End-of-Life Consultation service at no cost by calling 1-800-247-7421.