Palliative care docs are labeled “murderers” by some of their colleagues

Palliative care docs are labeled “murderers” by some of their colleagues

I read a disturbing article in yesterday’s NY Times about a palliative care physician who by merely doing his job and advocating for the patient was denigrated by his colleagues. Palliative care doctors provide comfort care to patients who don’t want heroic efforts to keep them alive. The patients’ wishes are expressed by the DNR documents executed and included in their hospital charts. Unfortunately, if the physician who is overseeing the patient’s care doesn’t believe in DNR he can ignore it. One palliative care doctor who was called in as a consultant recommended the patient be transferred to hospice, as per her wishes. The primary doc refused and called him a “murderer”.

A startling study of 700 physician-members of a national hospice and palliative medicine organization recently published in The Journal of Palliative Medicine. reported that more than half had had at least one experience in the past five years of another physician or health care professional referring to their treatment as “euthanasia”, “killing” or “murder”. Unbelievable! These professionals are denying patients of their wish to die at home in dignity.

Two years ago during all the hysteria about healthcare reform, all we heard was that the government wanted to institute ”death panels” to kill granny. This arose over provisions for Medicare to offer optional end-of-life counseling with doctors. Remember when idiots like Limbaugh and Beck spread lies that this was merely an attempt by the government to ration healthcare and kill Medicare patients? Since then studies have shown that patients with terminal diseases who received palliative care (comfort) often lived longer than patients treated aggressively for their disease. Plus, these patients could live at home! Treating the spirit at this stage is superior than treating the disease.

These results are astonishing and you would think that it would put to rest the notion that palliative care docs are murderers. Unfortunately, it hasn’t.

More than 80 percent of people who die in the United States have a long, progressive illness such as cancer, heart failure or Alzheimer’s disease. Surveys have shown that more than 80% of us do not want to be in pain or in the hospital in our final days. Yet, 90 percent of our ICU beds are occupied by patients in the final days/weeks of their lives. Obviously, our wishes are often ignored even when expressed in legal documents.

Don’t assume that just because you executed a living will that your doctor will carry out your wishes. When you execute your living will appoint a surrogate with a strong backbone who will fight for you when you can’t fight for yourself.

Take control of your end of life care and have that conversation about how you want to live your final days.


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