It is no secret that doctors are prone to providing highly intense medical care right up until a patient’s last breath. The past decades have seen large advances in biomedicine that have greatly improved our ability to extend people’s lives. The popular dilemma surrounding this issue asks whether the few extra months or years patients receive are worth the costs involved.
Every day doctors witness families wrestling with the question of what to do when their sick loved ones become terminally ill. Surprisingly, about 70% of Americans never sign an advance directive. If there is no advance directive in place that directs the patient’s wishes when they become too sick to speak for themselves, families are often at a loss as to how to proceed.
On the one hand, it can be very hard to accept losing a family member and there’s usually at least a small chance that the illness will go away if enough money is thrown at it. On the other hand, sick patients often suffer significant pain and discomfort while on life support. They are usually the first to accept that their lives are coming to an end and don’t want their family to go broke just to give them a little more time.
Combining all this with the emotional pain involved, there’s really no easy answer, but looking at what doctors choose for themselves might shed some light on how to get through this scenario as relatively unscathed as possible.
A 2013 study conducted at the Stanford Hospital & Clinics and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System found that nearly 90% of doctors opt for a “do-not-resuscitate” or “allow natural death” order for themselves. This means that doctors don’t want to receive CPR if their heart stops beating. Furthermore, over 80% of doctors don’t wish to receive any intense medical intervention to delay death when they become terminally ill.
Part of the problem is that doctors do not have an incentive to explain to the patient’s family the true chances of the patient returning to the person they once were or living any semblance of a normal life again. The medical system is currently geared on a kind of healthcare “upselling,” emphasizing the best possible treatment available regardless of the financial or emotional cost involved. What this means for us is that it is vital to make our wishes known to our families before we become sick and it’s too late.
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