Oregonians more likely to specify end-of-life wishes, study finds

A study from doctors a OHSU and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that the number of people in Oregonian who fill out forms with end-of-life wishes has increased.

By Molly Harbarger

Each evening, Tina Castanares sits with her 97-year-old mother and reviews the next day. Castanares tells her mother who will wake her up in the morning and help her get ready for the day. Then her mother recites what she wants and doesn’t want paramedics to do in case she has a heart attack during the night.

Castanares knows that might sound morbid, but the ritual keeps her mother’s mind sharp and comforts her to know that her mother’s end-of-life wishes will be considered in an emergency.

That’s why her mother filled out a Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment form, commonly called POLST. A recent study says that nearly half of all Oregonians who have died since the form was created had one filled out and the percentage of people doing so has only grown. The state leads the country how many people have a POLST form.

About 31 percent of people who died from 2010 to 2011 had a POLST on file with the state’s registry. A group of Oregon Health & Science University researchers, along with one from Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, found that number had jumped to 45 percent between 2015 and 2016.

In that same time frame, the number of deaths in Oregon by natural causes increased nearly 13 percent while the number of forms filled out by nearly 66 percent. Researchers say that indicates the popularity of the form has grown independent of the size of the population who would need it.

Oregon has led the country in palliative care in several ways. One of the most high-profile is Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, passed by voters in 1994 and enacted in 1997, years before other states started to adopt similar physician-assisted suicide laws.

But POLST is possibly the most impactful. The Center for Ethics in Health Care at Oregon Health & Science University put together a group of health care providers from the state to create the document, which allows anyone to say what kind of life-saving measures they want or don’t want in an emergency.

Every state now has some form of a POLST form. Oregon also has the most robust registry that any doctor or emergency worker can access in seconds.

Paramedics in Oregon are allowed to start CPR or other resuscitation techniques on a person in a medical crisis at their own discretion. But the chance of it working can be as low as 3 percent for people who are permanent residents of a nursing home. So many frail and older people fill out a POLST form that refuses those resuscitations measures.

Castanares’ mother is one of them. When an ambulance came twice, both times for non-life-threatening injuries, emergency crews were able to immediately look up her POLST form and see that she doesn’t want to be evaluated for anything beyond the injury. She has also made it clear she doesn’t want a breathing tube or other interventions other than those that would make her comfortable and able to be at home before she dies.

“She just really wants a natural death and really feels the POLST protects that,” Castanares said.

OHSU Center for Ethics in Health Care Director Dr. Susan Tolle said that many people who fill out a POLST form do it for the same reasons. However, the number of people who want extensive medical care in emergency situations has increased, according to the study.

About 13 percent of people who had a POLST form filled out when they died in 2015 to 2016 requested every life-saving measure, whereas only 8 percent did in 2010 to 2011.

And sometimes those desires change over time. Many people fill out more than one POLST over the course of their life, Tolle said, as their diagnosis changes or they experience new ailments.

“This is like any other medical order: if the wishes and the values and the context change, the orders need to change so that the plan of care is clearly guided as someone moves from one care setting to another,” Tolle said.

Tolle was also surprised to find that many people fill it out earlier in life.

The older an Oregonian is, the more likely they are to have a POLST form on file with the state. For people 95 and older, nearly 60 percent have a form — an increase of 83 percent over the last five years. But even people in their 60s and 70s have filled out the forms at a growing rate.

More than 31 percent more people between 65 and 74 had a POLST on file when they died than in 2010.

That could change how doctors talk to patients about POLST forms. Many people who are frail or have weak immune systems die suddenly from pneumonia or complications relating to disease. Tolle also said that people with memory or dementia conditions have started to fill out forms years before they expect to die.

Doctors tend to recommend POLST forms for people who are within months or a year of death. But Tolle said that might be excluding people who want to state their needs early and often.

“We didn’t really think carefully enough or fully understand the special needs of those at the most advanced age and frailty, and especially those with cognitive impairment,” Tolle said.

Complete Article HERE!

When End-of-Life Plans Are Just Hopes

Why her mom’s living will turned out to be useless

By Lola Butcher

Mom’s terminal cancer diagnosis took her by surprise. “I always thought I would just fall over dead while I was walking across the backyard,” she told me. “Not me,” I responded. “I’m planning to go out like Uncle Ernest: Go to bed healthy and wake up dead. I think it’s called cardiac arrest.”

We were sitting at Mom’s kitchen table, trying to pretend everything was OK. A few years earlier, Mom had flitted away “a little bit of cancer,” as she called it, with a lumpectomy carefully timed so she did not miss her volunteer gigs. But we knew that this time — two cancers and increasing shortness of breath — was going to be different.

We tried to focus on the peach cobbler in our bowls. In our minds, though, we were coming to grips with the fact that we had fooled ourselves.

Mom and I thought of ourselves as great planners. Our pantries always well-stocked; the menu always worked out weeks before the big family dinner; a hundred-dollar bill always tucked in the sock drawer, just in case.

Mom’s End-of-Life Plan

Mom’s end-of-life plan was to die quickly. It turns out that is not a plan; it’s a hope. And the difference proved terribly sad when it came to the living will she’d prepared (a living will is an advance directive spelling out your desires regarding medical treatment if you’re no longer able to express them).

Like every good planner, Mom had a Plan B if she didn’t get the sudden death she was counting on. She was such an enthusiast for having a living will that I teased her about handing out copies like they were campaign flyers. When she turned 65 or thereabouts, she presented a copy to each of us four kids, her siblings and her doctor, along with a warning that “if you keep me alive on machines, I’ll come back to haunt you.”

That made us laugh. Mom was as threatening as a worn-out quilt. And after Dad died, when they were both in their mid-50s, she devoted the next three decades to making other people’s lives easier. She was a cookie-baking grandma happy to babysit on five minutes notice; the lady who made hash brown casseroles for bereavement dinners at her church.

Mom’s Living Will

Looking back, I wonder where she got all those copies of her living will. In my mind’s eye, I see her — super-white tennis shoes and polyester slacks — standing next to the copy machine at the library, fishing dimes out of her coin purse, while a young library intern pushed the button. “I better get a couple more copies, if you don’t mind. My kids lose things like you wouldn’t believe,” she might have said.

We all knew the living will was Mom’s way of saying she didn’t want to die like my dad did, suffering horribly from lung cancer treatments known to be futile even before they started.

What we didn’t know is that she would suffer horribly because we didn’t adequately plan for her end-of-life care — and that the living will would prove useless.

Our Big Mistake

Mom was of the “whatever you think is best, doctor” generation, but none of her kids are wallflowers. Yet we were unprepared to advocate for Mom’s end-of-life preferences, so we politely acceded to her physician’s auto-pilot protocol of tests and specialists in unfamiliar medical centers and painful blood draws even though Mom was clear from the outset that there would be no chemotherapy and radiation.

Years earlier, my cousin had complained about the hospice nurse that cared for her dad, but I changed the subject, murmuring about how nice the funeral was. So I missed the opportunity to find out what had gone wrong, what was the name of the hospice and, most importantly, how we could avoid the same mistake if we needed hospice services in the future.

That turned out to be our big mistake.

We were caught off-guard on the day that Mom was too weak to get out of bed and I couldn’t turn her. Although we did have options (in-home help, inpatient hospice in the city 75 miles away or the local nursing home), during Mom’s months-long decline, we had not discussed them because we were hoping —there’s that word again — we wouldn’t need them.

The Hospice Trouble We Encountered

I woke up that morning, expecting another day of helping Mom from her lift chair to wheelchair to toilet to hospital bed. When we realized it was not to be, I panicked. I administered the first dose of morphine for the day and, as Mom dosed, started frantically trying to make a plan that should have been made weeks earlier.

The home care agency in her town, it turned out, only served patients not on hospice; they had a list of nurses who moonlighted, but nobody could be arranged on short notice.

The inpatient hospice had an opening, but that would mean Mom spending her last days in the city, too far for her five siblings to visit. Would she want that? In her frail and despairing condition, I couldn’t bring myself to ask.

So we headed to the nursing home, where Mom died 10 days later.

Before all this, I would have said that our one end-of-life plan was that Mom would not die in a nursing home that was just as miserable as we all feared it would be. But what I really meant was that was our hope. We didn’t have a plan.

Complete Article HERE!

The Raw Feeling of Losing a Fiftysomething Friend

The death of a friend provokes difficult reflections for this writer

By Judy M. Walters

My husband’s friend died last week. He was 57. That’s how old my husband is.

His friend was a great guy, married, a father of three, always kind and generous, thoughtful and considerate. We both liked him a lot. He developed a chronic form of cancer about 10 years ago, and for a long time he just lived with it. Every so often, he’d have to go off for chemo or tests or surgery, and then he would come back like before, still the great guy he had always been.

Until a few weeks ago, when suddenly the cancer was everywhere and no one could do anything except watch him die.

So it wasn’t like we were surprised.

It was more like shock. How could a 57-year-old man with children barely into their 20s die, even if he’d had cancer for 10 years? Even if that was what the doctors had told him would happen? Even if he had grown weaker over the last few years, and no treatment seemed to be working after a while?

It’s hard for us to wrap our brains around it.

Considering Our End-of-Life Wishes

My husband and I have talked about death a lot. I don’t consider us weirdly obsessed with the subject, but we have definitely talked about it. We talk about what we will want when we are dying — not to be kept alive by artificial means or if in pain that will result in death anyway. My husband has a living will (an advance directive laying out wishes regarding medical treatment when you’re not able to convey them); I do not, but I will get on that soon.

We’ve discussed, at length, what I will do if my husband dies — he is especially prepared for that one. “Go right to the special green folder,” he’s told me more than once. The green folder is filled with codes for me to get to our money and his life insurance.

We talk about what we might do if the other dies. How long is it okay to wait to look for a future spouse? My husband says, “At the funeral,” but I’m pretty sure he’s joking. I say: Not for at least a year. In fact, I’ve told my husband, friends and family, I can never imagine being married to anyone else. Which is why when someone my husband’s age dies, I think: Would I be happy being single the rest of my life? I am 50. Would I really want to start all over, to date?

What I Imagine Would Happen

I know some things I would do. I would sell the house. It’s too big and unwieldy for me to manage myself, and it will be too expensive — mortgage, maintenance — to deal with. But then where would I go? I don’t know. All my friends would still be married. I would be alone.

Of course people wouldn’t tell me I was alone. They’d tell me they were right there with me. But they would still be couples, doing couple things together. They would invite me for dinner now and then but not when they were having date nights, or on vacations because who wants your single friend to come on vacation with you and your spouse?

Fifty-seven is too young to die. You miss out on all of the good stuff. Retirement. Vacations. You don’t get to go to the movies during the day just because you feel like it. You don’t get to have lunch at the diner with all your friends because no one is working anymore and there’s nothing else to do.

You don’t get to ever hug your spouse or kids again. You don’t get to watch your grandchildren grow into awkward teenagers who you think are the cat’s pajamas, even though you know they are actually royal pains in the neck to their parents and you sort of enjoy it after what you went through with your own kids. At 57, you feel like you still have another whole life to live.

But then it’s all gone. All of it. And you made the most of it while you were living it, but you are still missing so much. While you might not know anymore, your family will know. They’ll name kids after you and talk about you at all the family functions. Your kids will desperately try to keep you alive, even though you will never be old enough to need to be kept alive.

Fifty-seven is too young to die. My husband is 57. But our friend was 57. So it happens, and more than we would like to think. When it happens like this, you can’t help but wonder, will it happen to you, too?

Complete Article HERE!

What type of death do you want?

By Bianca Nogrady

We can talk about good deaths and bad deaths, cheating death or embracing it, but the one thing that we all seem to reach for is this: when we die, we want to do it our way.

Tony Smith* says his mother and father were lucky, if such a word can be used for death.

For while they both experienced long-running, debilitating, and often traumatic health problems in the years before each of them died, when the time came, they died the way they wanted to.

Mr Smith’s father died suddenly in bed from a massive heart attack. His mother chose to be kept comfortable in her final days and hours, no heroic measures undertaken to prolong her life, no resuscitation to bring her back from the brink. She was surrounded by her family as she exited this world at age 78, which was, as Tony says, “on her terms”.

Asking someone how they want to die is awkwardly similar to the stock line from a Bond villain. But at a certain point in our lives, it is one of the most important questions for an individual to ask themselves, for a doctor to ask their patient, and for a family to ask their ailing loved one.

This question can make the difference between someone seeing out their final hours in a peaceful setting — at home, or in a hospice, or in a care facility — surrounded by loved ones, with the only medical interventions being ones to ease discomfort; or dying in a loud, busy, bright emergency department.

We want to die at home

According to one of many surveys with similar results, a South Australian study found 70 per cent of people said they would want to die at home if they had a terminal illness and 19 per cent said a hospital.

But data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed that in 2011 about 35 per cent of older people died in an emergency care setting and just 3 per cent died in community care.

Dying in a hospital setting is also expensive; it accounts for nearly half of the health costs associated with dying in this group. According to a 2014 report from The Grattan Institute, each year more than $2 billion is spent on older people dying in hospital.

“About a third of all people who die in hospital have only one admission — the one in which they die,” the report’s authors wrote. “The average cost of that admission for those aged 50 and over is about $19,000.”

It’s easy to forget we have a choice

While some of us may want the full suite of medical options in our final days and hours, some of us want to avoid it at all costs. The thing we often forget is that we do have a choice.

Liz Callaghan, the chief executive of Palliative Care Australia, points out that while we go through an often exhaustive process of preparing for birth — going to classes, talking to our family, making a birth plan — when it comes to death there is little planning and very little conversation.

“We’re ignoring those conversations, and by ignoring them we’re leaving family and loved ones with no plan and no idea what we want at a very emotional and difficult time,” Ms Callaghan says.

The analogy with birth is a useful one because many of the same questions need to be considered:

  • Where would you prefer to be when you die?
  • What sort of medical care would you like?
  • What sort of interventions do you want to avoid?
  • Who would you like to have with you?

But there is another very important question to be considered for those facing the end of their life, and one that is less likely to apply to a birthing situation: who should speak for you when you cannot?

Planning ahead

This is where advance care plans and enduring guardianships become vitally important.

These documents are intended to inform family, friends and medical professionals of your wishes about the sort of medical care and interventions you want at the end of your life, and to authorise certain individuals to speak on your behalf and ensure those wishes are respected.

Their form varies somewhat across states and territories, but one constant is that they are legally binding. A doctor aware of an advance care directive but who acts against its instructions could face charges of assault.

Advance care plans ask a specific series of questions intended to make us think about what interventions we would want and under what conditions.

These documents can and do evolve over time: what we might want when we are still reasonably independent and of sound mind may be very different from what we might want when illness has narrowed our options and the few choices remaining may be intensive and largely futile.

For example, the NSW advance care plan for individuals in residential care asks questions such as “If my heart or breathing stops due to old age or irreversible (not curable) health problems my choice, if CPR is a treatment option, would be to a) please try to restart my heart or breathing (Attempt CPR), b) Please allow me to die a natural death. Do not try to restart my heart or breathing (NO CPR), or c) I cannot answer this question. Let my doctor decide.”

It also asks individuals to think about how acceptable, difficult, or unbearable their life would be if, for example, they couldn’t recognise family or loved ones; have to be fed through a tube in their stomach; or cannot talk, read or write.

It provides space for individuals to write about their specific request with respect to medical care and in particular, life-prolonging treatments they do not want to have.

Mr Smith’s mother had had these conversations with her family, and was very clear about her wishes.

“Mum had strict DNR [do not resuscitate] instructions, she didn’t want any kind of life support, she didn’t want unnatural prolonging of her life,” he says. “Even when she stopped eating near the end she wasn’t force-fed or anything.”

Have the piece of paper and the conversation

But Ms Callaghan says the true benefit of advance care plans lies not in the pieces of paper but in the conversations associated with them.

“If you have those conversations and discussions with your next of kin, they will be confident that whatever they decide on your behalf is what you want,” she says.

It’s no coincidence that an online initiative to provide families with a framework for a discussion around end-of-life choices is called The Conversation Project.

As a GP of 30 years in the Western Australian town of Mandurah, Frank Jones has had that conversation many, many times with his patients. It’s not always comfortable, but he knows how important it is.

“People don’t like talking about their own mortality,” says Dr Jones, also president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. “But I think it’s really important as people do age that we initiate this conversation.”

While we might be a death-defying society on the whole, Dr Jones finds that the vast majority of individuals who have life-limiting illnesses with little hope of meaningful recovery are very happy to have the conversation with their doctor, and happy to work through the one-page explainer he gives them.

The bigger hurdle comes when he suggests they also discuss it with their families.

As effective as an advance care directive might be in getting individuals to decide how they would prefer to die, it’s useless unless it is shared and at least acknowledged by that individual’s loved ones; the people who will be responsible for acting on those wishes.

Directives often missed in hospital panic

An advance care directive is also useless if the medical staff working with that individual don’t know about it.

Unfortunately, advance care directives are often missed in the panic and chaos that happens when someone with a chronic life-limiting illness is taken to hospital.

“In the middle of the night, if that elderly person has a fall, and is whisked off by ambulance to the hospital, the hospital has no idea, unless the family’s involved and unless they know there’s an advance health directive in place,” Dr Jones says.

Unless a person is actually carrying the advance directive with them when they go to hospital, or someone at that hospital knows their wishes, there’s every chance that health care professionals will do what they’re best at — try to save a life by any means possible.

This is why enduring guardianships are almost as important as advance care plans, because they identify the person or people who are legally authorised to speak on your behalf and communicate your wishes.

Those documents may need to be produced to establish that right in a situation where difficult decisions are being made, but they are an important part of ensuring that someone’s end-of-life choices are heard and acted on.

Better infrastructure needed to support end-of-life choices

The other challenge for our health system and society is setting up the infrastructure needed to fully support people’s end-of-life choices, particularly if that choice involves dying at home.

Dr Hal Swerissen, co-author of the ‘Dying Well‘ report from the Grattan Institute, says Australia needs a competent, home-based palliative care system that can support and take the pressure off carers.

“It is a challenge but there are now some really good home-based palliative care services, such as Silver Chain,” Dr Swerissen says.

“They take all the referrals for palliative care in Perth — so they do a lot of deaths each year — and they get 60 per cent of people [referred to them] dying at home.”

As well as enabling so many to see out their final weeks and months of life at home, services such as Silver Chain could also prove to be cost-neutral to the health system.

Dr Swerissen and co-author Stephen Duckett estimated that home-based care for the last three months of life would cost an average of $6,000 per person. If 30 per cent of all deaths were to occur at home, this would amount to an extra $237 million cost to the health care system.

But if these individuals are dying at home, they are avoiding hospital and residential care facilities, which Dr Swerissen and Dr Duckett calculated as a potential $233 million cost saving.

Mr Smith’s mother had hoped to die at home, but the level of medical care she needed at the end of her life meant she spent her final weeks in a palliative care facility. It wasn’t her first choice, but Mr Smith says the level of care she and the family received was excellent.

“We took turns, my siblings and I, to stay all night with her. As much as she wasn’t at home, we were there.”

* Tony Smith has asked that his name be changed.

Complete Article HERE!

How to honor and execute a loved one’s wishes is a conversation worth having

By Judson Haims

While I enjoy almost every day of my job, I am often faced with formidable challenges. One of the most difficult challenges I encounter is discussing plans for end of life with family members, clients and my contemporaries.

During the course of life, most people are required to handle many stressful situations. One of the most stressful and life altering is dealing with the passing of a loved one. Even when families have had the forethought to discuss a shared plan and how to honor and execute the loved one’s wishes, managing emotions, fears and anxieties of family and friends can be tenuous.

When a loved one’s life nears its end, so many areas need to be addressed. Often, it is easy to become overwhelmed and, thus, become immobilized. However, for those who have chosen to accept that the end will eventually come and have taken the time to develop a thoughtful plan, much emotional pain can be spared.

Some of the specific topics that need to be addressed in developing a plan include:

“It is obviously one thing to write about what you should do to initiate these difficult, but necessary, discussions. However, it is quite another issue to face the reality of what to actually say when you are facing a loved one and thinking about how best to break the ice with the topic of death and dying.”

  • Where does the person wish to die, at home, a nursing home, hospital?
  • Who will be a caregiver until the very end? Will it be a family member or friend? Will they have the fortitude to assist properly? Will it be a homecare agency or hospice?
  • What do they want as far as medical intervention, and who is going to make sure the passing person’s wishing are going to be honored and run as smoothly as possible? (Don’t assume a spouse or child will be the best choice.)
  • Establish advanced directives and medical and financial powers of attorney.

For those who have not yet had to experience end-of-life discussions and planning, you will eventually. Don’t shy away from the hard discussions.

It is important to make time and find a place to begin discussions revolving around end-of-life issues. Maybe a group situation might make it easier, such as during a time when families gather together. These conversations can benefit from the “safety in numbers” theory and tend to be more philosophical than one-to-one situations.

Generally speaking, there are four steps to expressing end-of-life wishes:

1. Ask the right question.

2. Record those answers.

3. Discuss among the pertinent people (i.e., family members, loved ones, doctors, attorneys, etc.).

4. File documents. Make certain the important documents are filed on your computer, given to medical providers, family and anyone else who may be involved in advocating.

For those who would like to learn about which documents should be in place when planning for end of life, here are some to consider: advanced directives, living wills, medical durable power of attorney and do not resuscitate orders. Here in Colorado, the Colorado Advance Directives Consortium has made available a document called the Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment, which is designed to help you convey what your wishes are for medical care at the end of your life.

It is obviously one thing to write about what you should do to initiate these difficult, but necessary, discussions. However, it is quite another issue to face the reality of what to actually say when you are facing a loved one and thinking about how best to break the ice with the topic of death and dying.

Should you choose to further educate yourself, there are a number of resources available to assist in starting a conversation: Conversation Starter Kit (the conversationproject.org), Aging with Dignity (www.agingwith dignity.org) and Take Charge of your Life (www.takechargeofyour life.org) are just a few that you may want to look into.

When end-of-life discussions take place among doctors, family and patients, all the participants tend to feel better. Medical treatment is usually handled with more professionalism and is more effective. And, perhaps the most difficult to measure, the stress of such a difficult situation is drastically reduced.

Complete Article HERE!

Do We Have A Right To A ‘Good Death’?

By

[S]hould doctors do everything they can to preserve life, or should some medical techniques, such as cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), be a matter of patient choice? Doctor Sarah Simons wades into the debate and argues that ‘do not resuscitate’ decisions are all about patients’ human rights.

Of all our human rights, the right to life is the one most often held up as the flagship, fundamental right: after all, without life, how can one learn, love, communicate, play or have a family?

The right to life is closely linked to the right to health. Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UK has signed and ratified, states are required to “recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.

Protecting patients’ rights to life and health involves providing necessary life-saving treatment (known as resuscitation) if their life is threatened by serious illness or injury. It also involves enabling patients to live as well as possible for as long as possible: for example, by treating preventable diseases and encouraging people to adopt a healthy lifestyle. However, although many aspects of medicine and health are unpredictable, death is the one certainty for all of us.

Is There a Right to a Good Death?

In recent years, there has been much debate surrounding how healthcare practitioners should approach end-of-life issues with patients. A ‘good, natural death’ is increasingly recognised as a part of someone’s human right to life.

When healthcare professionals acknowledge that someone is approaching the final stages of their life, and no longer responding to life-saving treatment, treatment is not withdrawn, but instead, the goal is changed to treatment focussed on preserving the patient’s quality of life and managing their symptoms in accordance with their wishes. It’s important to draw a distinction between this and the ethical debate on euthanasia, which is altogether different from end-of-life care and natural death.

A ‘good, natural death’ is increasingly recognised as a part of someone’s human right to life.

Sarah Simons

This change of focus often includes completing a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) order, instructing healthcare teams not to carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when the patients’ heart and lungs cease to work. This decision is usually made on the grounds of pre-existing medical conditions and poor physiological reserve and frailty, which mean that CPR will not be successful. A DNR should always take into account the patient’s informed opinion on the matter, or at least their next of kin’s.

A DNR decision only refers to CPR. The patient can still receive treatment for related issues, such as antibiotics for an infection, and all other life-preserving or life-saving treatments can be given until the patient’s heart and lungs stop working. A DNR decision never means that life-saving treatment is not given – the purpose of a DNR is to allow the patient to pass away naturally and peacefully, with dignity and without traumatic medical intervention.

What Exactly is CPR?

Understanding the reality of CPR is vital to understanding why it is a human rights issue. CPR is used when someone has a cardiac arrest, which means they have suddenly stopped breathing and their heart has stopped beating.

CPR specifically refers to the chest compressions, electric shocks and artificial breathing technique used to stimulate and replicate the beating of the heart to pump blood around the body and the breaths taken to inflate the lungs with oxygen. This is effective when a sudden cardiac arrest occurs and someone’s organs stop unexpectedly, but the underlying mechanism of a cardiac arrest is very different from when the heart stops beating as part of the body’s natural decline at the end of life

CPR is traumatic, undignified and usually unsuccessful in patients of all ages.

Sarah Simons

Sadly, despite Hollywood’s optimistic depictions of resuscitation, the reality is that CPR is often traumatic, undignified and usually unsuccessful in patients of all ages. CPR will not reverse years of gradually shrinking muscle mass, rejuvenate brains worn down by the steady decline of dementia, remove cancerous tumours or clear obstructed lungs weathered by years of COPD, which are often the underlying causes when someone’s heart and lungs have stopped.

 

CPR will cause bruising, vomiting, bleeding and broken ribs. CPR will render someone’s dying moments traumatic and undignified, and it will leave their friends and families with lasting memories of a failed, brutal resuscitation rather than a mental image of their loved one peacefully slipping away pain-free and asleep.

What Do Experts Have to Say About This?

Guidance published by the General Medical Council (GMC) in 2016 emphasised the importance of recognising patients’ human rights in relation to decisions about CPR and end-of-life care. The guidance recognised that “provisions particularly relevant to decisions about attempting CPR include the right to life (Article 2) [and] the right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3)”.

Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention specifically refers to the right to protection from inhuman or degrading treatment, and understanding the brutal, traumatic reality of CPR is a crucial consideration when thinking about DNR decisions. The GMC goes on to reference “the right to respect for privacy and family life (Article 8), the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to hold opinions and to receive information (Article 10) and the right to be free from discrimination in respect of these rights (Article 14).”

The GMC guidance also highlights that the Human Rights Act, (which incorporates the Human Rights Convention into UK law), “aims to promote human dignity and transparent decision-making”, which should also be key concerns for doctors making decisions across all aspects of medicine.

Making the Right Choice For The Patient

Having open, frank discussions about CPR, and end-of-life decisions in general, enables healthcare professionals and patients to make informed decisions together. Doing so empowers patients to ask questions and insist that their rights are respected. It gives patients time to talk to their loved ones about what’s important to them, including any religious considerations, before their health deteriorates to a point where these conversations may not be possible. 

Having open, frank discussions about CPR … enables healthcare professionals and patients to make informed decisions together.

Sarah Simons

Avoiding these conversations, while perhaps understandable given that no-one likes to think of their loved ones dying, means that important questions may not get asked and the patient’s wishes may go unheard. Making decisions on CPR and other practical matters is important, but so is acknowledging that someone wants to spend their last days eating mint chocolate chip ice cream at home listening to a specific Eva Cassidy album whilst surrounded by their pets and children.

As the NHS turns 70 later this year, and continues to navigate the challenges of an ageing population, conversations about end-of-life care are more important than ever before. Grief and bereavement are difficult, emotionally charged topics of conversation, but death is a normal human process. Taking the opportunity to talk about what we want at the end of our lives empowers us to make informed decisions and ultimately help all of us to die well one day.

Complete Article HERE!