End-of-Life Choice, Death with Dignity, Palliative Care and Counseling

Posts Taggedend of life care

Treating the Body, Mind and Soul

by Chris Conrad
Mail Tribune
October 21, 2012

Eighty-seven-year-old Dorella Johnson is tired.

She’s tired of suffering through multiple blood-draws every day to treat the chronic illnesses that have landed her in Providence Medford Medical Center. Her deep and fragile veins make it difficult to insert needles into her arms. Her arms are splotched with large purple and black bruises that stretch from her wrist all the way past her elbow.

She’s tired of spending her days in a hospital bed and not at the Medford home she and her late husband of 68 years, Roger Johnson, lived in for several years.

Her sister Ruth Wineteer came to Medford from her home in Eastern Oregon to be there when a decision was made on Johnson’s fate.

“She told me that she didn’t want any more shots, no more poking,” Wineteer said. “She just said, ‘No more. It hurts.’ “

Johnson knows she has reached the end of her life and she wants to live out her final days in relative comfort, away from hospitals and doctors. More

When Prolonging Death Seems Worse Than Death

October 9, 2012

Many of us think of death as the worst possible outcome for a terminally ill patient, but Judith Schwarz disagrees.

Schwarz, a patient supporter at the nonprofit Compassion & Choices, says prolonging death can be a far worse fate. For many patients, good palliative or hospice care can alleviate suffering, yet “a small but significant proportion of dying patients suffer intolerably,” Schwarz says.

Based in the New York area, Compassion & Choices is an organization that helps terminally ill patients and their families make informed and thoughtful end-of-life decisions to hasten a patient’s death. These decisions are not made impulsively, Schwarz tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “Nobody makes this choice unless the burdens of living have so consistently, day after day, outweighed all benefit.” More

Boomers Want Control of Their End-of-Life Care

By Jonathan Walters
September 28, 2012

Assisted suicide. Euthanasia. Death panels. Rationed health care.

There’s nothing like a well-chosen phrase to inflame talk about end-of-life care — how the health-care system cares for those who are in the last stages of a terminal illness and how much control patients and their families have over that process.

It can be an emotional and divisive issue, and for lawmakers, a dangerous business. That’s certainly something President Obama quickly learned when a provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that encouraged doctors to engage patients in discussions about end-of-life care quickly deteriorated into a nationwide war of words over whether such one-on-one discussions between patient and physician would result in “death panels” determining who should receive care.

But with America rapidly aging, the subject of end-of-life care isn’t going to go away. It has the attention of any legislator or government official trying to make sense of health-care budgets in general and Medicare expenditures in particular. That’s because in their last year of life, older adults consume more than a quarter of Medicare’s expenditures, costing more than six times as much as other beneficiaries. It also has the attention of hospital officials. Under the ACA, hospitals will be penalized by Medicare for high readmission rates. That means there will be more focus on avoiding the ping-ponging of terminally ill patients that often takes place between nursing homes and hospitals as people near the end of their lives.

Meanwhile, an increasing percentage of Americans say they want more control over how they will be treated should they become terminally ill. Faced with the mechanistic environment of hospital intensive care units, many older patients say they prefer to die at home, surrounded not by machines but by their family. Others want every option explored, every high-tech trick tried to prolong their lives, even if they are unconscious.

Today, the discussion over end-of-life care is alive and well — but not on a national level. “It’s pretty quiet right now, and has been since 2009 and the whole death panel debate,” says John Carney, president and CEO of the Center for Practical Bioethics, formed in 1984 to parse out complicated ethical issues around medicine and medical research, including issues like end-of-life care. Rather, the debate and press toward a political solution are currently taking place at the state level. There, policymakers and advocacy groups are managing to defuse the raw emotional responses that national, partisan-fueled battles elicited when the ACA was being debated.

The reason for that is straightforward. Rather than pursuing the “death with dignity” approach to end-of-life decisions — which immediately inflames the right-to-life lobby — a low-key movement has evolved in the states. This movement is focused on giving patients facing tough decisions about end-of-life care more say in what medicine and medical procedures they want or don’t want.

If advocates for more rational and patient-centered end-of-life care can avoid the specter of death panels and health-care rationing, there’s the real possibility of progress. Dr. Susan Tolle, who practices general medicine in Oregon and serves as director of the Center for Ethics in Health Care at the Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU), says, “When people are using language like ‘death panels,’ there’s more emotion and fear than if you say you want to honor the wishes of this individual.” More

Doctors Are Practicing Irrational Medicine at the End of Life

By Monica Williams-Murphy, MD
September 22, 2012

I just took care of a precious little lady, Ms. King (not her real name), who reminded me that, too often, we doctors are practicing irrational medicine at the end of life. We are like cows walking mindlessly in the same paths; only because we have always done things the same way, never questioning ourselves. What I mean is that we are often too focused on using our routine pills and procedures used to address abnormal lab values or abnormal organ function, to rightly perceive what might be best for the whole person, or even what may no longer be needed. Our typical practice habits may in fact become inappropriate medical practice at life’s end.

Ms. King was a case in point: She was a 92-year-old nursing home patient on hospice for metastatic breast cancer. Ms King had been transferred to the ER for a sudden drop in blood sugar, presumably due to her oral diabetes medication. Her appetite had apparently been trailing off, as is common at the end of life, and her medication appeared to have become “too strong.” Her glucose level had been corrected by EMS during her trip from the nursing home to the Hospital, so when I came into see Ms King she was at her ‘baseline.’

I opened the door to bed 24 and a grinning little white-haired lady peered at me from over her sheet. “Hi,” she said greeting me first.

“Hi, Ms King,” I smiled back at her and picked up her hand.

She reached over with her free hand to pat me on my forearm, “You sure are a cute little doctor,” she said smiling.

I couldn’t hold back a little laughter. “Well, you sure are a cute patient too,” I smiled and winked at her.

She winked back at me.

“Wow, this is the most pleasant 90-year-old I have cared for in a while,” I thought to myself.

As we chatted it became clear to me that she had some mild dementia but had no pain or complaints at the time. She just said, “I think I had a ‘spell’” ( a “southernism” for some type of unusual and undefined episode of feeling ill or fainting); and “I’m not hungry” when I offered her food.

Leaving her room still smiling after our pleasant exchange, I went back to look at her medical record from the nursing home and two things immediately struck me:

1. She was on 20 medications, only about half of which seemed needed or appropriate to me. For instance, if someone is expected to die from cancer in the next 6 months (which is why she was on hospice care), why should that person take a cholesterol pill every day?

  • Is it going to change her outcome? No.
  • Will it add to her comfort? No.
  • Could it possibly cause unnecessary harm? Yes.
  • So, why is she on this medication? No rational reason that I can think of, other than mere habit on the part of the doctor.
    • Doctor habit: See an abnormal lab value ( i.e. elevated cholesterol) = give a pill to correct it. While this is a fine default among the rest of the population, this type of unconscious medical practice at the end of life is contributing to wasteful drain of precious and scarce Medicare and Medicaid dollars. We cows (doctors), need to depart from these types of paths. If the usual pill, practice or procedure does not have any benefit for the dying person, if the typical treatment doesn’t create comfort, or may actually harm this person, then DON’T DO IT! Get off this path!

2. She was on hospice care but her order sheet read, “Full Code.” I can never figure this one out. If you or your family member enters hospice care this means that you generally accept that your time on this earth is limited, specifically to less than 6 months or so. Thus, it is irrational to ask for chest compressions or shocks or artificial life support measures when your expected end comes. Right? Didn’t you sign up for hospice because you were wishing for a peaceful, natural death? Well, not everyone agrees with me, so I called Ms. King’s power of attorney to clarify this point, it was her son, Mr. King.

Mr King was a pleasant man who said that he was unable to come to the hospital because he himself had suffered a stroke. After I explained the full code vs Do Not Resuscitate/Allow Natural Death pathway, he said, “Oh No! she never wanted all of that life support stuff. Both of us want what you said, ‘ a natural death.’” More

The Hospice Option

By Susan Canfora
The Daily Times
September 15, 2012

Talking about death is difficult.

Even for an oncologist, telling a patient treatment isn’t working, they most likely aren’t going to be cured and it’s time to think about a different kind of care is grueling.

“It’s a very hard conversation to have,” said Dr. David Cowall, medical director of Coastal Hospice in Salisbury, shaking his head and recalling spending a minute alone in his office to gather his thoughts before having that talk with patients.

“If we’re not going to cure them, there comes a time to stop treatments and look at comfort and care. Some patients bite your head off when you tell them that. Some tell you off and some go somewhere else,” Cowall said.

Interested in determining if patients are better off continuing traditional medical care or going into hospice, where symptoms are managed, Cowall co-authored the paper “End-of-Life Care at a Community Cancer Center.” It was published in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Oncology Practice. More