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Palliative Care Promotes Dignified Living

Some patients with dementia, like Kate Cheney, have received a prescription for lethal drugs, despite being denied by doctors, who did not believe she had capacity to make such a life and death decision.  

Dementia has become a deadly diagnosis for millions of Americans. Since the disease takes a lengthy toll on the patient, options require long-term and committed caretakers.

As one article states, “Characterized with often slow and uncertain progression, dementia can span between an average of four to eight years after the diagnosis.”

This disease causes loss of cognitive ability over a long amount of time. “For those with dementia, being in the hospital is something to avoid if possible. That is because hospitalization often comes with unintended, harmful consequences such as delirium, psychological distress, falls, procedure-related complications, undertreatment of pain, and even death.”

These frequent hospital visits are not only risky, but can increase healthcare costs by exorbitant amounts placing people at risk of assisted suicide because they want to relieve the financial burden on their families. Additionally, abusive caregivers might coerce patients to have a “dignified” death and apply for assisted suicide.

Where is the dignity in tired caregivers pushing incapacitated patients to “request” hastened death, as it seemed Kate Cheney’s daughter did, who one doctor described as “coersive?” This is the epitome of elder abuse. Truly dignified end-of-life care comes when patients are provided with every opportunity for palliative care, hospice care, and medical help available. 

“Palliative care… educates and supports family caregivers in decision-making and improves symptom control and quality of life for patients with life-threatening illnesses such as those with dementia. Proactive palliative care is a promising holistic model of care that can reduce unnecessary hospitalization and enhance quality of life and care for these families.”

As patients with dementia experience disabilities, like memory loss and difficulty reasoning, naming assisted suicide as the dignified “option” communicates that someone who experiences these things on a daily basis is not dignified, should not keep living. 

“It is important to encourage all stakeholders to address the problem with simple, evidence-based solutions to transform care and support for those with dementia, so each person lives their life as best as possible with dignity.” 

Assisted suicide laws do not promote actual healthcare options, but in a system that is rife with problems, inequities, and barriers to access, can only exacerbate these issues and give insurers and providers an easy out on end-of-life options like palliative care, which will be deemed too expensive or too burdensome to consider.

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