Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Earlier this week I posted an update on California's aid-in-dying law. I was interested in this article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Beyond Legalization — Dilemmas Physicians Confront Regarding Aid in Dying.
Noting that doctors in jurisdictions where aid-in-dying is lawful are will need to have conversations with patients making the request, the author suggests
Physicians can start by clarifying what patients are asking and why. Some ways in which patients might raise the topic of PAD are listed in the box. Not every question about PAD is a request for assisted suicide. Patients might be seeking information, talking through concerns, expressing distress, or trying to ascertain the physician’s views. To clarify the patient’s motivation, physicians might say, “I’ll be glad to answer that question, but first please tell me what led you to ask.”
The author offers some examples of how patients might raise the issues with their doctors and suggests the next step for doctors is to
explore patients’ concerns and identify and address their palliative care needs, regardless of the physicians’ own views or the legal status of PAD where they practice. Discussions could cover patients’ physical symptoms; psychosocial, existential, and spiritual suffering; hopes and fears; and goals of care. All options for end-of-life care should be discussed, including palliative and hospice care and palliative sedation.
It’s also important for physicians to think through what actions they’re willing to take. Both physicians who support PAD and those who oppose it should try to relieve patients’ multidimensional concerns and distress. After comprehensive palliative care is intensified, 46% of patients who have requested PAD change their minds. (citations omitted).
The author recommends the doctors consider the parameters of when they would participate in medical-aid-in-dying, offering that "perceived loss of autonomy and dignity is now a more common reason for requesting PAD than inadequate pain control." (citation omitted). The author also discusses issues that may occur from a doctor's lack of experience in the area and potential adverse outcomes and counseling families about them. The author also offers some comments for doctors who are opposed to medical aid-in-dying and concludes with this advice: "[r]esponding to inquiries about PAD is new territory for most physicians. To fulfill their obligations to patients and be true to their own values, physicians should think through how they will respond to the challenges raised by these conversations."