Source: U.S. News
It happens every day in the intensive care units of hospitals throughout the country: Physicians ask the loved ones of someone kept alive by a ventilator and other medical devices whether the patient would want to live hooked up to machines.
Or, would the patient prefer to forgo extreme life-prolonging measures for palliative care, in which physicians manage the patient’s symptoms – even during aggressive treatments like chemotherapy – and try to help ease spiritual suffering and emotional anguish?
Often, the loved ones are bewildered, confused and frightened – usually because they’ve never discussed such issues with their parent, spouse, sibling or other loved one, according to physicians and officials at The Conversation Project, a nonprofit group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts that advocates that people should talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. A national survey the project conducted in 2013 found that 90 percent of people say talking with loved ones about end-of-life care is important, but only 27 percent had done so. The survey found that 82 percent of people say it’s important to put their wishes in writing, but only 23 percent had done so.
The dearth of end-of-life conversations between patients who end up receiving critical care in hospitals and their loved ones and health care providers helped inspire Dr. Jessica Nutik Zitter to write “Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life,” a 2017 book in which the author describes how many old and ill people are put on what she calls the “end-of-life conveyor belt.” In the book, she describes how U.S. physicians are trained to prolong life at all costs, even if that means aggressively treating dying patients.