About 90% of people who use medical aid in dying in Oregon are enrolled in hospice, a form of palliative care for patients with fewer than six months to live.
A New England Journal of Medicine study of hospice nurses and social workers in Oregon reported that symptoms like pain, depression, anxiety, extreme air hunger, and fear of dying were less pronounced among hospice patients who requested aid-in-dying medication, indicating a strong palliative care benefit for having an aid-in-dying prescription on hand regardless of whether it ever gets filled.
To the contrary, truly holistic hospice services and palliative care include, where authorized, medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option—because only the dying person can decide whether their pain and suffering is too great to withstand.
Sedation to unconsciousness—called palliative sedation —doesn’t always relieve extreme pain and suffering. And the prolonged dying process that typically results from Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED) may not be how one chooses to live their last days.
Multiple studies report that more than half of terminally ill patients experience pain at the end of life, with the prevalence of pain increasing in the last 4 months of life to as high as 60% in a person’s final month. It’s also estimated that as many as 8 out of 10 people with cancer experience “breakthrough pain” despite being medicated with a long-acting painkiller.
A 2015 Journal of Palliative Medicine study showed the practice has increased hospice use, contributed to more open conversations between patients, families and physicians about end of life training, and resulted in better physician palliative care training.