Medical aid in dying helps physicians care for whole patient
This article originally appeared for The Desert Sun
When I was growing up, my dad would take me to the hospital to see my mom, Jeanne, at work. She was an registered nurse in the operating room and emergency department. By the end of her career, she moved into case management. She had chosen her path at 3 years old, when she was taken to see her grandmother as a patient in the hospital and was quite taken with the nurses’ white uniforms.
Similarly, I loved the activity in the hospital when visiting my mother at work, the notion of being able to help people.
Upon graduating medical school, my mom and I talked at length about my career path. She advised me to go into geriatrics. She said that all medical specialties are rewarding, but that this would be particularly intimate and most fulfilling.
She’d seen it first hand as a case manager assisting elderly patients discharge from the hospital and ensuring they were moving to a safe environment. I eventually found my way into hospice care, which I’ve been doing for over 15 years now, five of them as a board certified hospice medical director.
Another thing that my mother taught me was how important compassion and humane treatment should be at the end of life. This concept didn’t fully hit home for me until California passed the End of Life Option Act authorizing medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering in 2015.
As a physician, it is my duty to educate my patients about their disease and their options and then to ensure their decisions are carried out.
That’s why I support patients having access to the End of Life Option Act. This compassionate, humane law gives terminally ill adults the option to request prescription medication that they decide to take, at their discretion, to peacefully die in their sleep if their suffering becomes intolerable. In the desert, we need health care systems like Eisenhower Health and Desert Valley Hospital to give their physicians the opportunity to help their patients access the option of medical aid in dying.
Most physicians in my mother’s generation would have found it difficult to write a prescription for medical aid in dying. I am now teaching physician residents, training in various specialties, about hospice care and end-of-life care. They have high morals and ethics and understand the humanity in patient-driven decision-making. They see their role as a team with their patient.
This, to me, is truly patient centered care. It is the institutions where these health care providers work that sometimes are holding them back, despite the fact that polling shows a majority of doctors already have embraced it.
Thankfully, that is changing in California: 100 percent of large, secular health care systems in the state have supportive policies concerning the End of Life Option Act. But many regional secular hospitals and hospices still prohibit their doctors from prescribing under the law. In Palm Springs, too many doctors are prohibited from prescribing aid-in-dying medication.
True to what my mother taught me, I can now provide even more compassionate care for those at the end of their lives because of California’s law, and I’m a better physician for it. I encourage our health care systems here to reevaluate their policies, allowing access to this compassionate end-of-life option.