Improving Quality of Life for Terminally Ill Patients

Posted On: Monday, March 5th, 2018

By Katherine Cross – Minnesota Catholic Conference

Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash

Your doctor just told you the two words no patient ever wants to hear: “Terminal Cancer.” Those two enormous words blocked out everything else that came after them. Nothing could possibly translate through the roaring whirlwind of emotions held back by an impossibly strong but thin line between hope and despair.

Since that day, you’ve been flooded with the gamut of treatments – chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, homeopathy – some of which you’ve never heard. Then, like a bullet train out of nowhere, your doctor throws the switch from treatment to “end-of-life options.” The doctor tells you there is a way to end your pain – assisted suicide. She can write you a prescription that you would take to end your life.

You’re left to think about your options. Endure additional rounds of treatment in hope of extending your life … or simply end it all now.

Assisted suicide advocates would have you think that patients who use assisted suicide are doing so to avoid pain or because of a fear of pain at the end of life. However, testimonies and research gathered by Patients Rights Action Fund (PRAF) points out that most requests for assisted suicide do not come from patients experiencing pain.

If pain or a fear of pain is one of your concerns, you’re not alone. But, know that there is real care that means you do not need to take your own life.

That real care is palliative care. This option not only can manage pain, but most importantly, it respects your dignity where assisted suicide fails to do so.

What is Palliative Care?

  • Palliative care provides you and loved ones physical, mental, and spiritual comfort.
  • Palliative care allows you to continue treatments that could cure your illness.
  • Palliative care acts as a partner treatment to your curative or regular medical treatments. You do not need to choose between palliative care and treatments that may cure an illness.
  • Palliative care can be beneficial in treating your more chronic conditions. It is especially beneficial if you want to limit technical interventions.
  • Palliative care honors the mission of your health care providers: to do everything in their power to restore your health, not treat death like a cure for illness.
  • Palliative care promotes communication and relationships between you, your family, and caregivers. This can help heal emotional and psychological pain that you and your loved ones may be going through.
  • Palliative care truthfully and compassionately helps you, your loved ones, and your caregivers to understand the disease process and prognosis.
  • Palliative care teaches you how your illness will affect your life, what treatments are available, and the risks/benefits of care options.

Access to Palliative Care is Growing

Concerns about treatment costs are not uncommon. Yet, the National Cancer Institute says palliative care is usually covered by private health insurance. Both Medicare and Medicaid also cover some kinds of palliative care. If you are uncertain whether your insurance covers palliative care, check with a social worker or your hospital’s financial counselor. This is also an important step if you do not have insurance.

Palliative care is often more affordable than in the past. There are also more locations that offer palliative care, including most hospitals. Across the United States, there are more than 1,700 hospitals equipped with a palliative care team. Minnesota alone has 31 hospitals that provide palliative care.

Despite its increasing financial and physical availability, you may still have questions and wonder if palliative care may be a good option for you.

Palliative Care: Your Own Personal Care Team

As you start palliative care, you will have an entire team dedicated to your care. Palliative care teams typically consist of specially trained doctors, nurses, and other care staff. Other care staff on your team may include a chaplain, social worker, pharmacist, physical therapist, dietician, or volunteers. This team works with you, your loved ones, and your doctors to provide an extra layer of support.

Through the palliative care process, you will help identify goals of care that are specific to you. This is part of your comprehensive and individualized palliative care plan. This plan will encompass your physical, emotional, practical, and spiritual well-being. Your personalized care is based on your age, beliefs, cultural background, and existing support systems.

This plan enables you to continue living a fulfilling life, despite serious illness. Assisted suicide cuts life short and eliminates the possibility of enjoying more days with your loved ones and family.

Palliative Care vs. Hospice – What is the difference?

You may have also heard the term “hospice” amid your search for answers. But, your insurance provider told you that you don’t qualify for hospice care. Your cancer is terminal, yet you’re expected to live longer than the qualifying six months. While this longer prognosis is good news for many, you may feel at a loss for care options.

While palliative care and hospice often coincide, they are also different. Hospice is a form of palliative care, but palliative care is not limited to hospice care. Typically, hospice is comfort care for patients expected to live six months or less; it is used when efforts to cure or slow an illness are no longer working.

So even though hospice care is a form of palliative care, you can receive palliative care even without a terminal diagnosis. It is not simply the elimination of pain; it is concerned with improving your quality of life in meaningful ways despite a terminal or chronic illness.

How Minnesota Strives to Improve Palliative Care

As a patient in Minnesota, you are part of a healthcare system that currently ranks third in the nation for quality of health care. With such high standards for care in Minnesota, there is no reason that you or any patient, whether faced with terminal illness or chronic pain, should suffer.

Not only will you receive some of the best care in the nation, further steps are being taken to promote palliative care. Because Minnesota values providing you with excellent health care, lawmakers decided to establish in law the importance of palliative care.

The Minnesota Palliative Care Advisory Council convened in 2017 (under MN Statutes, section 144.059). This council is working to ensure that you and any palliative care patient receive the best care.

It is likely that the council members (appointed by the state’s health commissioner) have experience with the type of care you are seeking. Members have experience providing a wide range of palliative care situations: acute and long-term care, pediatric, and adults; and inpatient, outpatient, and community settings.

This team of 18 consists of:

  • physicians
  • nurses
  • spiritual counselors
  • social workers
  • patient caregivers
  • hospice workers
  • licensed medical professionals

Be assured, this team is working to promote and improve palliative care for patients like you across Minnesota.

Because palliative care is a growing field, the advisory council is identifying barriers that you and other patients may run into while seeking palliative care. During the council’s recent meeting, members identified some of these issues. Two common problems include funding and a lack of palliative care knowledge among providers.

In order to increase access to palliative care for patients like you, the council has set goals. One goal is educating all medical professionals about palliative care. When your doctor has the proper knowledge, she can then provide you with the best care options.

Palliative Care: The Right Option to Improve Quality of Life

Despite the enormity of a terminal diagnosis, palliative care can help you understand your illness and improve your quality of life. No matter how little or how much time you have, palliative care provides you the options you desire and deserve.

You and your loved ones can be at peace knowing that assisted suicide will not provide you with the care you need. You can refuse to accept quick, cheap death as a legitimate form of treatment. Instead, tell your doctor you want to move ahead with real care – palliative care.