It takes courageous doctors to stand up to [the kind of verbal abuse that palliative care doctors have to put up with]. Doctors must explain to families that the courts as well as ethics committees have approved care that’s simply intended to reduce suffering not to provide a cure. Sometimes doctors must to point out to family members that it’s their patient’s instructions that they must follow even when they are in conflict with the family’s wishes.
Have you taken the time to legally document your “end of life” wishes? In Virginia, this document is known as your Advance Medical Directives? As difficult as this task might be for you it can be equally difficult for your doctors and hospice medical staff to carry out your decisions.
Some of these challenges were featured in an article titled Amongst Doctors, Fierce Reluctance to Let Go on the New Old Age Blog at the New York Times. Indeed, we live in a culture of medicine aimed at preserving life. However, when does such “medicine” actually get in the way and prolong biological life beyond what is desired by the patient?
In addition to the medical culture of preserving life, the family of the patient receiving care can be a powerful force in the mix. Many times they do not want to let go, even though their loved one is ready. Add these three ingredients together – the medical culture, the patient’s wishes and the family’s fears of loss – and you have a recipe for conflict.
The palliative or hospice care doctor is well attuned to the intentions of their patient and their wishes. Unfortunately, the rest of the medical community and the patient’s own family may be less attuned. In fact, they may be hostile at best and litigious at worst.
I recommend reading the original article, as you will better appreciate the unfortunate tension thrust upon so many healthcare professionals in these cases. On the other hand, the lessons gleaned may encourage you to design advance health care directives with clarity and then communicate your wishes to your primary care doctor and family members now.
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Reference: The New York Times — The New Old Age Blog (March 29, 2012) “Amongst Doctors, Fierce Reluctance to Let Go”