Mission creep doesn’t benefit patients at the end of life

The author’s father, John T. Harrington, with one of his great-grandchildren, Libby M. Myers.
The author’s father, John T. Harrington, with one of his great-grandchildren, Libby M. Myers.

By Samuel Harrington

When my father was 88 and the picture of health for his age, he taught me, an experienced physician, an unexpected lesson.

We were discussing treatment options promoted by his primary-care physician and other doctors for an aortic aneurysm — a ballooned segment of blood vessel at risk for dangerous rupture in his abdomen. He turned to me and asked, “Why would I want to fix something that is going to carry me away the way I want to go?”

My father had the generally accurate impression that if his aneurysm ruptured, he could demand pain medicine, decline emergency surgery and be dead from internal bleeding within a few hours or, at most, a day or two.

With his unexpected question, he directly challenged the assumption that a doctor’s advice is always in a patient’s best interest, particularly regarding a medical problem late in life. This proposition had been my general belief, but after more than two decades as an internist and gastroenterologist, he had prompted me to reconsider it.

Furthermore, Dad was making an important distinction, between care at the end of life (in this case, palliative care for pain) and treatment (aneurysm repair). He was also suggesting a natural exit strategy. Not suicide, to which he had a moral objection, and not physician-assisted suicide, which was not a legal option in his home state of Wisconsin.

Despite his generally decent health, we both thought that he was too old for a major surgical repair, so I suggested he undergo an outpatient procedure to insert a stent to prevent the ballooning artery from worsening — that would at least postpone the threat of rupture. My reasoning was that with the stent, he was likely to enjoy the birth of his first great-grandchild and that without it, he would probably never know her.

My father lived five more years and met 12 great-grandchildren. Three of those years were good ones, but two of them were not.

I have asked myself, “Was it worth it?” I know that he asked himself that, too. His mantra for the last two years of his life was “I have lived too long.”

The 2003 book “Tyranny of Treatment” documented the terrible medical procedures used in 18th-century England: draining blood from swollen legs and testicles, radical mastectomy without anesthesia; bleeding arms to “cure” eye problems.

Painful, futile treatment continues to this day, particularly with elderly patients who often are not informed of the difference between palliative care, designed to minimize pain while trying to preserve quality of life at the end, and aggressive treatment more designed to prolong life at any cost, using such methods as surgery or chemotherapy. Often they are not informed about the benefits of letting some conditions run their course.

Here in America, there is a deeply held belief that advances in medicine will eventually conquer or cure the chronic scourges of cancer, dementia, heart disease, lung disease and diabetes. This notion leads many elderly patients to seek aggressive treatment not only to spare their loved ones grief but because they hope (and expect) to be cured, if only they hold on just a little longer.

This is one reason that every year more than 75,000 people older than 85 die in intensive care units seeking care that proves to be futile, according to a 2004 study, and why more than 65 percent of our senior citizens die in institutions when a significant majority say they would prefer to die at home, according to a 2014 report by the Institute of Medicine.

The impulse to treat often prompts us to forget that many elderly patients have multiple medical problems brought on by chronic organ system weaknesses. Focusing aggressive therapy on one serious diagnosis can complicate another to the point of death, disability or prolonged hospitalization. Beyond that, too many doctors succumb to research from drug and device makers that show incrementally positive results for therapies that mean little to someone at the end of a long life.

As an example, a friend recently told me about her 89-year-old mother’s consultation with an oncologist for a Stage 4 cancer of the pancreas. The doctor launched into a description of some new treatment options.

After listening carefully to what the doctor offered, the patient posed the question, “How long can I expect to live if I decline chemotherapy, and how much longer can I expect to live if I undertake therapy?” When the doctor responded that the answer to both questions was three to six months, she cut short the consultation.

According to the science behind the studies, three months of added life expectancy is considered a statistically significant improvement. But for many people at an advanced age, three months of added “life” in hospitals or nursing homes, possibly suffering side effects, may not be an appealing prospect. My friend’s mother looked at the statistics and saw no practical benefit.

Facing the tyranny of treatment is not usually so dramatic. Not every patient has the option to decline surgery for a threatening aneurysm or chemotherapy for late-stage cancer. Most patients have multiple smaller decisions to make in the mission creep of treatment vs. care. These patients and their families need help thinking about the natural progression of aging and visualizing what they want at the end. Then, if they decline treatment and choose palliative care, they can consider an exit strategy.

One patient I spoke with was living a bed-to-chair existence and suffering urinary incontinence from multiple mini-strokes. She resisted the initial insertion of a bladder catheter as one indignity too far. The thought of an invasion of body, followed by regular catheter exchanges, brought a ripple of sadness to her eyes.

She brightened, however, when I explained that refusing to exchange the catheter would ultimately create a painless urinary-tract infection. If she chose, she could then decline antibiotics, and with the help of palliative medications would be able to die comparatively comfortably of a progressive systemic infection. She now had an exit strategy.

If asked by patients, most doctors are willing to discuss quality of life at the expense of quantity of life. In elder care, that conversation should include a discussion about futile treatments vs. making sure the last days on earth are comfortable. As Sherwin Nuland wrote in “How We Die,” “The real event taking place at the end of our life is our death, not the attempts to prevent it.”

Therefore, discussions with our trusted physicians should evolve from how to die later to how to die better, including with an exit strategy.

In my father’s case, he was clear at the end that he wanted to avoid further interventions designed to prolong life. At age 93, after six months in hospice, medicated for comfort, he died quietly at home.

Complete Article HERE!

The way we die: elderly people need end-of-life options

by Mario Garrett

It is illegal to help someone kill themselves in Malta. But what if someone is dying in great pain?
It is illegal to help someone kill themselves in Malta. But what if someone is dying in great pain?

It is illegal to help someone kill themselves in Malta. But what if someone is dying in great pain?

Opioids usually administered in these times are sometimes not enough to stop the agonal stage of death. Agony comes from the Greek word ‘to struggle’. The process of dying, as seen by an observer, is that of a struggle. The stage right before an older person dies is often accompanied by disorientation, struggling to breathe with long pauses in between loud, laboured breaths – called Cheyne-Stokes breathing.

Sometimes a death rattle is heard in the breathing when there is liquid in the lungs. Sometimes the person may start convulsing. This agonal process is eloquently described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This is not the way we want to die.

In one study looking at what people said is their ideal way to die, Gilbert Meilaender from Valparaiso University in Indiana suggested a one-word answer: Suddenly! The idea is to live as long as possible at the peak of our vigour and then, when the time has come, to die quickly and painlessly. But this is not the way we die.

With our advancing and encroaching technology, it is more likely that dying will become a more protracted affair despite our wishes. Surprisingly, when we try and hasten the process we, as a society, have responded by punishing those who are trying to help us achieve a painless death.

In the US, one of my neighbours, Sharlotte Hydorn, before her death in 2013, gained a measure of notoriety by offering to mail you, for only $60, a package containing GLADD exit bags – Good Life and Dignified Death. The kit included a plastic bag, medical tubing, two canisters of helium and instructions on how to commit suicide – by placing the bag on your head and filling it with helium, which deprives the body of oxygen. The body does not know it is being denied oxygen since the helium mimics the oxygen molecule. You die peacefully. In the US, more than a quarter of us will likely die in an emergency room, our final departure looking more like a chaotic medical soap opera. Our death will be seen as another medical failure. For the majority of us, this is not what we want or what we deserve.

In Europe and the US, hospice care is gaining ground as the gold standard for end-of-life care. The Malta Hospice Movement is today 001caring for over 1,000 patients and their families. However, Malta Hospice, as most hospice services, is used by too few people. And when these services are used, they are used too late. The result is that most older adults still experience widespread distress in the final stages of life.

The result is that we deal with dying underhandedly. In hush hush tones we conspire to give the dying person a good death. In Malta, Jurgen Abela from the University of Malta’s department of family medicine conducted a survey of 160 doctors. The results are revealing. One in seven doctors were asked by their patients to help them die. Despite this, nine out of 10 would refuse such requests for moral reasons – since a majority were Catholic and this was important to them – despite half of these same doctors accepting the right of individuals to hasten their death. Such schizophrenic response harbours a sense of bigotry.

The religious fervour to curtail euthanasia has not slowed the growing number of states that have legalised physician assisted death. With four US states and four countries that today openly and legally authorise active assistance in dying of patients, the list of states/countries is growing.

There is nothing absolute in these situations. Physicians cannot determine with infallible certainty that someone is going to die, sometimes the medication used does not work as intended, or is delayed, the process of injecting a person with enough opioids to kill them is not family-friendly and it is killing without consent. These are all valid criticism that pose moral challenges.

If we look at how physicians die, what we find is that a majority of them do not go for invasive treatment if they know that it is unlikely to improve the outcome. They chose quality of life over quantity of life and self-medication is high. It takes a special person to go through with euthanasia.

In the state of Oregon in the US, only a small fraction goes through physician-assisted-suicide. In 2013, a total of 71 people went through physician-assisted-suicide out of nearly four million people in Oregon. In Malta this would translate to less than five people a year. There is no ‘thin end of the wedge’. These people, nearly exclusively white, were educated with a diagnosis of cancer (since we know a lot about the progression of this disease.)

Different older adults need different support. Some end-of-life options may not appeal to you, but the option needs to be made available for others that it might help. Euthanasia is about diversity of needs. Not everyone might want or need it but it should be an option for those very few for whom it might help alleviate the pain of dying.

 Complete Article HERE!

In the last months or days, these treatments can make things worse

By Tammy Worth

doctor and cancer

A woman with ovarian cancer who came to see internist Leslie Blackhall was very upset. The woman’s oncologist had told her it was time to discontinue treatment — that it was doing more harm than good. Blackhall knew that the effects of more chemotherapy would be intense and would compromise this patient’s immune system while buying her only a bit more time. So she asked the woman, who was in her 60s, what she would do with more time. The response: Have more chemo, on the chance it might let her live longer.

Medical advances bring the promise of extending life, but some of the treatments used in a person’s last months, weeks or days — such as CPR for failing hearts, dialysis for failing kidneys and feeding tubes for those unable to nourish themselves — often do not provide more time and can worsen quality of life.

Yet saying no to more treatment is tremendously hard to do, whether that decision is made by patients or by relatives for patients who are too infirm to express themselves.

“People don’t have a good way to think about end of life,” said Blackhall, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville. “If we tell people, ‘Chemo isn’t going to help you,’ they still want it. We [all] want a peaceful, comfortable, dignified death . . . but not yet,” she said.

So what has research found about commonly used end-of-life interventions? Which ones can be useful and which are not, and when should they be administered?

Resuscitation

CPR is just one of the treatments offered in hospitals and other medical settings with the purpose of keeping people alive so an underlying health condition can be treated. For instance, a young and healthy person who has a major allergic reaction to a drug can be given CPR to bring them back and treat the reaction.

But CPR is frequently used even when there is no intervention that can prolong life. For a person with metastatic cancer or late-stage dementia whose heart stops beating, the odds are quite low that resuscitation will be lifesaving, said Blackhall, who began studying this issue in the late 1980s.

Numerous studies have borne this out, one of the most recent being a2009 analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine that looked at more than 400,000 people older than 65 who received in-hospital CPR. Researchers found that only 18 percent survived long enough to be discharged. The survival rate dropped at higher ages, with only 12 percent of those 90 and older recovering enough to leave the hospital.

“It is less likely to work when the cause of heart stopping is something you can’t fix to begin with,” such as terminal cancer, Blackhall said. “They are dying, and if they survive that 15 minutes, [the process of CPR] often breaks their ribs. They will end up in the ICU with a catheter, a tube down their throat and another one to feed them.”

Dialysis

When dialysis, which removes waste from the blood, was introduced in the 1940s, its purpose was to keep young people with acute renal failure alive until their kidneys began to properly function again.

Today, an estimated 650,000 people have end-stage renal disease, more than 70 percent of whom are on dialysis. The typical patient on dialysis is 65 years old, and the fastest-growing group is individuals who are older than 75. The treatment is used in approximately 90 percent of elderly people with end-stage renal disease, according to 2013 research in the journal Aging Health. Acute failure, particularly in young people, can be reversed, allowing them to live long, healthy lives. Dialysis, however, doesn’t cure end-stage renal disease.

Sharon Kaufman, author of “Ordinary Medicine: Extraordinary Treatments, Longer Lives, and Where to Draw the Line,” said this is another area where the default treatment may not be the best option for older patients.

“People aren’t ‘choosing’ dialysis — they are being directed toward what is available, and what is available is more,” said Kaufman, who chairs the department of anthropology, history and social medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. “Patients are not getting better; they are just hoping not to get worse.”

In many cases, dialysis does not lengthen the lives of older, frail patients. And even when it does, that extra time can be problematic. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that frail, elderly dialysis patients had a 40 percent mortality rate after three years compared with a 16 percent rate for healthier patients receiving the treatment. This is, in part, due to the toll dialysis can take on the body.

A New England Journal of Medicine article from 2009 looked at more than 3,500 patients with end-stage renal disease starting dialysis in U.S. nursing homes. Researchers found that 39 percent retained kidney function three months after initiating treatment; but at 12 months, only 13 percent maintained it and more than half had died. The study authors concluded that dialysis in this patient population is associated with a “substantial and sustained decline in functional status.”

Patients do have a choice about undertaking dialysis, but Kaufman contends that the medical system makes it extremely hard to say no.

People are directed toward dialysis because of health care’s love of technology, its fee-for-service system and the specter of litigation hanging over hospitals that do not use all their resources to extend life, Kaufman said. Also, terminally ill patients often have a strong will to live, and they feel as though they are “choosing death” if they opt out.

Kaufman recounted the case of a physician friend with end-stage renal disease who opted out of dialysis, concluding that the hours attached to a machine and the treatment’s side effects — including fatigue, low blood pressure, blood poisoning and muscle pain — were not worth it. “Because he was a physician, he knew,” Kaufman said. “Doctors don’t want for themselves what they do for their patients, and that’s what patients need to know.”

Joseph Gallo, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, surveyed aging physicians about their thoughts on end-of-life treatments. When asked if they would want dialysis (given the scenario that they had a brain injury rather than a terminal illness), nearly 85 percent said they would turn down the treatment.

Feeding tubes

As dementia advances, people tend to be less interested in food. They become more likely to fight someone trying to feed them, choke when swallowing food or keep it balled up in their cheek instead of swallowing.

Feeding tubes are often used to bypass these issues. The idea is that the tubes provide nourishment to prolong life while avoiding aspiration pneumonia (where food goes into the lungs rather than the stomach) and decreasing the risk of pressure ulcers, a breakdown of the skin from something rubbing against it.

Nearly a third of the people in U.S. nursing homes with cognitive impairment at some point are given feeding tubes, according to a 2010 article in JAMA. But a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that feeding tubes didn’t reduce the chances of pressure ulcers among nursing home residents, and doctors say aspiration pneumonia still occurs when stomach contents back up into the esophagus and then into the lungs.

“It turns out that, at the point in time when people develop problems with chewing and swallowing and eating, their dementia is quite advanced and they don’t have a lot of time left anyway,” said Muriel Gillick, director of the program in aging at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute.But, she said, “it is hard to say to a family, ‘Your mom has trouble swallowing, so we are just not going to give her anything to eat anymore.’ Families want it because feeding someone we love is our way of nurturing and showing we care.”

Feeding tubes, like dialysis and CPR, are often provided in many health-care settings because patients and families aren’t offered alternatives that seem acceptable as the end approaches.

“What matters most is a person is comfortable . . . and I think generally we have ways to achieve this that don’t involve sticking tubes in people,” Gillick said. Ice chips can be offered to assuage thirst, and reading to people, holding their hands, keeping them warm and dry are all sustaining activities that improve quality of life. These things shouldn’t be thought of as “trivial or fluff,” she said.

“All of us are going to die,” Blackhall said. “The question should be how do we want to live — what do we actually want to do with that time? Let’s make sure that whatever time you have, you can do those things.”

Complete Article HERE!

“Hospitals are not a good place to die”

End-of-life doula Anna Lyons on why we need to rethink our attitudes to death

By

holding hands

I’ve been with the dying many times, both in a personal capacity and as a health care professional. As an end-of-life doula my work is centred around supporting people and their families at end of life. My experiences have led me to agree wholeheartedly with the BMA in its recent report: hospitals are not the best place to die.

An overwhelming majority of us want to die at home, yet statistics show the reality is that 54% of us will die in hospital. But in my opinion, hospices are for the dying. Home is for the dying. Hospitals are not. The raison d’etre of end of life care is to help people experience a ‘good death’. We will remember how someone we love dies forever. The impact of a bad death is far-reaching. Candy Chang, creator of the ‘Before I Die‘ wall, a global art project that invites people to reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations on a public wall, describes the fallout as creating ‘circles of mayhem’ for generations.

What is a good death?

Every person will have a different idea about what would constitute a good death for themselves or their family. Much of the debate over end-of-life care comes down to two questions:

  1. Is a good death one where the medical team did everything to save a life?
  2. Is this still true if there is little chance or no of a happy outcome?

Culturally, we have always seen a good death as one we have ‘fought’ against. It may be time to consider otherwise. Many treatments are aggressive and futile, robbing the last remaining quality of life a patient has.

Perhaps a good death is the accepted one. One where the dying person is in control, can be at home, can have their pain and symptoms managed. End of life care must be entirely individualised and person-centred, only then can we begin to offer the excellent end of life care that everyone deserves.

when-hospitals-go-wrong

The refusal of a medical team to end active treatment to the detriment of the patient was exemplified in the death of a very close friend of mine. They threw everything they had at giving him longer than his twenty-something years. They didn’t give up ‘actively’ treating him until the end. He died clinging to the belief that he was going to live. That last precious year of his life was a tragic mess of chemotherapy, life-prolonging operations and colourless hospital wards. The treatment had destroyed the very essence of who he was, long before his heart played out its final beats.

I believe if we discussed end of life issues regularly, we wouldn’t find them so tricky to broach. Issues about death and dying should be taught in schools as part of the PSHE syllabus from primary and onwards. During Year 13 tutor time when we teach young adults to fill in job application forms, we should also be filling in advance directives with them.

Issues with control at the end

In a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the UK was crowned the best in the world for provision of end-of-life care. The author of the report, however, said that there is room for improvement, especially in symptom control and communication. Could this improvement be guided not by government policy or hospital administration, but by changing the way we look at death?

The recent BMA report concluded that some doctors continue to treat the dying when active treatment is no longer of any benefit. One reason it suggested was because of pressure from the patient and their loved ones. This is understandable – it is often too difficult to let go of the ones we love. The report also stated it is because if doctors acknowledge there’s nothing more that can be done, that they’re admitting defeat.

chemotherapy

I knew a woman worked with the dying so when she was dying, although she knew there was nothing that could be done, she didn’t want to die. She wasn’t ready: she had a life to lead, a world to see and children to watch grow and guide. She was looked after by the same medical team she had worked alongside for many years. They couldn’t let her die either. If they let her die, they would have failed one of their own. They had to try, even though they knew it was futile. They couldn’t give up, even though they knew the treatment she would most likely shorten her life, not extend it. Her original prognosis with palliative care had given her up to a year. She died two weeks into aggressive treatment, four weeks after her initial diagnosis.

We should not see the death of a dying patient as a failure. Death is not the loss of a battle. Death is a natural part of life. If we could see it that way, we might be able to approach it differently. Our goal should be helping someone live as good a life as possible right up until the very end. No one will ever experience a “good death” if our focus is active treatment at all costs.

senior woman

The report set out that treatment at end-of-life should be ‘appropriate and proportionate’. Dying with care, deference and dignity, and on our own terms is the very least we should be able to offer. A lady I worked with lived an incredibly full life: alone and happy. She went dancing and played snooker. She cooked everything from scratch everyday. Her breathlessness became untenable and she finally went to the doctor. She had cancer, which was slow to progress even though she chose a palliative care pathway. She accepted her life-limiting prognosis with the wisdom of one who knew herself well and contemplated mortality more often than many. She died in a hospice, surrounded by her family. Hers was a peaceful death. Peaceful and on her own terms.

One aspect of the report that I feel most strongly about is that doctors should be receiving training and CPD on communication and how best to have difficult conversations. One junior doctor who was interviewed for the report said: “I found it very difficult to talk to patients about dying, prior to working in a hospice, because…as a junior doctor we’re not taught very much…”

A shift in thinking

We all have to take responsibility for communication and the decisions we make. It’s terribly difficult when we’re unwell and vulnerable to hear these truths. If we’ve never considered end-of-life until our own life’s end it’s no wonder we find it so hard. If we discussed these issues regularly we wouldn’t find them so hard. We need to break down the ingrained cultural barriers that prevent us from talking about death and dying

Let’s all take on that responsibility. Let’s talk about it: openly and without fear. It’s too much to have that conversation for the first time when we are facing death. It’s much easier to talk about it while we’re living a healthy life.
We need to ask ourselves what is a good death for us.

Why do we value quantity over quality of time? Why do we cling so dearly to the notion that a life well lived is the longest? Sometimes doing nothing is the most courageous path. Sometimes accepting there’s nothing left that can be done is the bravest choice. Some may describe such a decision as “giving up”. Pursuing treatment until the very end, on the other hand, is lauded as “being a fighter”.

doctor and patient

Do these words,”battle” and “fight”, compound medical teams’ feelings of failure when an unavoidable and imminent death is in front of them? Changing our language may help us to change the way we think. Illness and death are a part of life. Loss is not a failure: not ours, and not our doctors’. Perhaps redesigning our expectations and language at end of life could begin with Paul Kalanithi’s beautiful words:“The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.” If they did, I believe death and dying could be a richer and better experience for everyone involved.

Complete Article HERE!

Dying Better, Even If It Means Sooner

Delaying death with excessive, expensive end-of-life care often does more harm than good.

Focus on the simple things, not extraordinary measures
Focus on the simple things, not extraordinary measures

By

Life expectancy in the United States has increased by 30 years in the last century. Despite our longer lives, many Americans continue to fight death’s inevitability in ways that are costly socially, economically and spiritually. Our over-reliance on medical “miracles” is causing us to throw more and more money at the final year of life rather than grapple with the difficult – but ultimately more gratifying – work of approaching death more willfully by removing the sense of crisis and making the most of the moments that remain.

Defying and delaying death often remains the focus of many care providers even when patients reach their 80s, 90s and 100s. These individual decisions add up to the single greatest expenditure in the national health system: Care in the last 12 months of life accounts for over 25 percent of total expenditures for both Medicare and Medicaid. And while some studies have argued for cost savingsassociated with hospice care, others show cost neutral effects of engaging hospice in the last months of life, depending on how cost is measured and over what period of life. Meanwhile, a number of states are passing aid-in-dying laws, which will have moral, social and economic impacts, but the bills are simply directed at ending suffering; the changes in dying made possible by such laws (notably in Oregon) have not been the subject of economic analysis to date.

In short, driving down end-of-life costs will be slow because these costs are sustained by medical practice and patient choice, both social and behavioral practices subject to slow change. While this level of spending is unsustainable, there are greater costs – constantly fighting against death’s inevitability is also deeply unsatisfying.

Looking back, many sons and daughters I have worked with regret having encouraged a parent to undergo a hip surgery. Spouses regret pushing for their loved ones to be intubated, and many patients struggle to balance the suffering with the life-prolonging effects of their treatments. Such regrets are the outgrowth of an approach to death that is focused on delaying death rather than being present and accompanying loved ones as they are dying. Accessing death-delaying treatments often comes at the expense of easing discomfort and being intentional about the nonmedical ways we can help our dying loved ones.

End-of-life laborers are very clear about limiting the extraordinary measures some of their patients allow in their own lives. Their plans, shaped by their work with the dying, give clear direction about how they want to live: deliberately and without much medical intervention as they encounter illness and disease later in life. They sometimes mourn the life-extending measures that can prolong life at a very low quality and instead encourage loved ones to be present as often as possible, continue routines, tell stories, touch our dying loved ones and find ways to meaningfully connect, like looking at photos, being together in nature, listening to music or sharing a favorite food.

Although our medical advances are partially responsible for our longer years, when we begin parting with life, many end-of-life laborers remind us to focus on the mundane, not the extraordinary. They encourage family members and patients themselves to pause before pursuing treatments, to be as deliberate and purposeful about planning as possible and to enjoy those things that have always delighted or engaged them for as long as possible.

The friends and family members who are most proud of how they helped their loved ones often talk about little tokens: a friend clipped part of a favorite flower so her friend could smell her yard one more time; a daughter got the quilting club to gather in the hospice room; a son dug up a favorite book and read and read and read until he was certain his dad could no longer hear his voice.

Obviously families who seek life-prolonging measures do so for more moments with their loved ones. Unfortunately, aggressively delaying death often becomes the focus of the final weeks and days. Pursuing significant medical care often distances us from our loved ones: time spent in waiting rooms, surgical units and follow-up appointments, rather than watching the geese take off over a lake, taking that final trip to one’s homeland or reconnecting with friends who have been distant.

As more of us live longer and die slower, the challenge for many Americans will be to avoid rushing toward solutions and to live, sometimes quietly and uncomfortably, in the shadow of death’s certainty. End-of-life experts have taught me that recognizing limits might save us from some of the real damage we do to each other – asking our elders to fight on too long, to endure too many procedures and tests and surgeries and to spend too much time in the hospital instead of at home or in the garden – or holding the hand of someone who loves them.

Complete Article HERE!

Candidates avoid the aid in dying debate, but it’s time to start talking about it

Since physiological support like respirators and defibrillators made it possible to prolong life, prolonging death has fueled a more subtle conversation

By 

With an aging population and state-by-state legislation creeping along, aid in dying is not a discussion national politicians should avoid.
With an aging population and state-by-state legislation creeping along, aid in dying is not a discussion national politicians should avoid.

Several factors have made politicians, particularly at the national level, reluctant to wade into the aid-in-dying conversation. Catholic leaders and their evangelical “pro-life” allies have eviscerated any politician willing to discuss aid in dying, shutting down dialogue and branding advocates as “pro-death”. By claiming to represent American religions, these vocal opponents have bifurcated the issue along political lines, all but silencing those who are religious but disagree.

Yet a conversation is taking place, with or without the presidential candidates. Since the 1970s, when physiological support, like respirators and defibrillators, made it possible to prolong life, prolonging death has fueled a more subtle conversation about what medical decisions patients and their families can make. Aid in dying is now approved by 68% of Americans, a number that rose by a striking 10 points in the course of a year, according to a Gallup poll conducted in May 2015. It’s now legal in five states with at least a dozen more considering bills or legislation.

Still, the issue was absent from the presidential race until a terminal cancer patient finally asked a question last week. Jim Kinhan, an 81-year-old with a face as rosy as his sweater, asked Hillary Clinton at a New Hampshire town hall meeting on 3 February about her position on the legalization of aid in dying.

“I wonder what leadership you could offer within an executive role that might help advance the respectful conversation that is needed around this personal choice that people may make, as we age and deal with health issues or be the caregivers of those people, to help enhance and – their end of life with dignity.” His voice was raspy, his question respectful. The Washington Post reported that Clinton “looked a bit nervous”. After a slight pause and some careful word selection, Clinton failed to take a position.

Republican candidates have also been silent about aid in dying, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone in the current conservative field will step away from the Republican party platform as they vie for traditionally Republican social conservatives. The campaign of Jeb Bush and his role in the Terri Schiavo case have even worked against the cause, helping to refresh patient concerns regarding autonomy in a way that defies party lines and past reticence.

But, unlike the fight to end abortion, which has (wrongly) focused on women’s sexual decisions and succeeded in shaming female medical choices, aid in dying is an issue that addresses male choice. That gender difference – and the fact that Republican voters skew older than Democrats – could catch up with the party and its candidates in the future. Republicans would do well to pay attention.

New Hampshire, where Kinhan lives, is home to one of the oldest populations in the country, and legislators there have tried twice in the past to establish study committees. Both times governor Maggie Hassan has vetoed the proposals. This year, as Hassan prepares to leave office, a Concord senator has tried again, introducing SB 426. It’s spurring the kind of dialogue in the state that Kinhan was hoping Clinton’s national campaign could get behind.

In the past, the very terms used to describe aid in dying have proven controversial. For more than a decade, polls showed that approval ratings depended on how questions about aid in dying were asked. If the term “assisted suicide” was used when polling, those willing to claim support for the laws were fewer. But that has begun to change; voters, exposed to repeated state-level conversations about aid in dying, and who now see that the laws have succeeded in the “laboratory of the states”, have come to understand that “assisted suicide” is not “suicide”. It is not something our culture should be united in preventing.

In an op-ed for the Concord Monitor at the end of January, Kinhan addressed the contrast between aid in dying and suicide. “The transparency and shared process of end-of-life choice is in strong contrast to the behavior known as suicide,” he wrote, emphasizing the difference between choosing not to suffer from a terminal disease and choosing to end one’s life out of despair.

“This choice is not dark and secretive,” Kinhan continued. “Personally, it rings loudly and joyfully of my readiness for what lies ahead and for thankfulness for what life has gifted me.”

Compassion & Choices, the nation’s largest aid in dying organization, has announced a call for questions for candidates. They will host an event on 17 February that gives voice to seniors who have concerns about end-of-life care. Hopefully candidates will realize what Kinhan and the movement to legalize aid in dying have shown: it’s time for a national conversation.

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