I really wish President Obama would stop using the term “end of life care” when talking about medical care for the elderly! I’m thrilled that our president is a fan of hospice care, but I want to make sure that everyone knows that what is being discussed in the news today is not hospice care. They are talking about how we would provide medical care to the elderly, how it would be distributed, and most importantly how it will be rationed. Those subjects have nothing to do with hospice, but I fear that hospice is about to be drug into this debate in a way that will not be good for the hospice movement.
I’d guess that most of you have seen the video of President Obama talking about whether a 100 year old woman will be allowed to get a pacemaker in his new health care system. If not, here it is.
There’s that term – “end of life care”. Not long after he uses the term, he says that the government may have to let doctors and patients know that the treatment they are considering isn’t going to help and instead of the treatment they should just take a pain pill. This is where I get really scared. To me, end of life care, is hospice care. Those two terms are synonymous. I also think that when people think about pain pills and the end of life, they think hospice. Everything about what he said makes me cringe in fear that the next words out of his mouth will be, “we’ll put her on a great hospice program”. While that would be great for business, there is a major difference between what the president is talking about and what I want to do for a living. A huge part of being a hospice patient is the ability to choose to be a hospice patient. It’s not a death sentence handed down! Hospice is a choice to pursue treatment that will ensure your comfort and quality of life.
I talk to people all the time who are making what I believe to be a stupid medical decision. I vividly remember a patient we had recently. I went to the hospital to do a hospice consult with he and his family. We talked. He cried quite a bit. He was scared of dying in pain, and we talked about that. He asked me to pray that God would take him that night while he was sleeping. I did. He told me that the doctor had told him that he could do a procedure to remove a “bunch of sludge” between his heart and lungs and that, if he survived the procedure, he would be able to breath much better. (He would still be very much hospice appropriate, but breathing better.) The doctor had also advised him against the procedure and told him that he thought there were good chances he would die on the table. He was thinking about his options, and would let me know. He had the surgery, survived it, and when home on hospice after a couple of weeks recovery in the hospital. When I went to the house he told me that he figured the only two possible outcomes from the surgery were less pain and misery or going to heaven after dying painlessly on the operating table, so he chose the surgery. Making that choice boggles my mind, but I love the fact that he got to make the choice. He got to decide what was best for him, and that is, to me, the core of what hospice is all about.
Mr. President, I’m begging you, we can debate health care until we are all blue in the face, but let’s not act like “take a pill” end of life care that you qualify for because of your age or your lack of usefulness to society is the same thing as what hospices across our country are doing today. To make that implication is nothing short of insulting to me and the thousands of hospice workers across our nation who believe to our core that each and every person has the right to choose how and where they want to live out their final months.
president obamas definition of end of