When states accept medical aid-in-dying practices, physicians risk becoming complicit in covering up the failures of their profession — particularly allowing patients to die badly, Ira Byock, MD, palliative care physician and CMO of Torrance, Calif.-based Providence St. Joseph Health’s Institute for Human Caring, argues in a STAT op-ed.
“Americans are rightly outraged by the mistreatment their dying loved ones commonly receive,” Dr. Byock wrote. “People deserve state-of-art treatments for their maladies as well as expert attention to their comfort and inherent dignity all the way through to the end of life. Both are necessary; neither alone will suffice.”
Here are 5 things to know about the article.
1. Although physicians do not want their patients to die, they must realize there comes a point when more medical treatments do not mean better care for patients. Additionally, patients’ family members and care givers must recognize their complicity in overtreating their loved ones.
2. In addition to causing patients unnecessary suffering during end-of-life-care, overtreating patients contributes to increased rates of moral distress, burnout, depression, addiction and suicide in physicians, Dr. Byock wrote.
3. Dying badly in the U.S. is most evident in university-based referral centers. Only 23 percent of incurably ill patients at UCLA’s cancer center were referred to hospice care before they died despite the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s recommendation for hospice care as a best practice, according to a study published in the Journal of Oncology Practice.
4. A separate study found UCLA patients with cancer regularly received excessive radiation treatments to tumors that had spread to their bones. Out of 54 patients who met criteria for single-dose treatment under appropriate clinical guidelines, only one patient was given the recommended one dose of radiation. Forty-two patients were prescribed 10 or more doses, which indicates a taxing treatment regimen.
5. To help keep patients from dying badly, medical leaders can draft public policies to fix longstanding flaws in clinical training, monitor members’ practices for indicators of quality end-of-life care, persuade hospitals to launch strong palliative care programs and work to implement regulatory reform to increase the minimum number of staff members in nursing homes while revoking the licenses of facilities that continually fail to meet residents’ basic needs, Dr. Byock wrote.
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