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Posted by Compassion & Choices on 05/26/2022

End-of-Life Healthcare

End-of-Life Healthcare

Approximately 80 percent of Americans would prefer to die at home, according to Stanford School of Medicine. Despite this, only 20 percent of Americans actually die at home —while 60 percent die in acute care hospitals and 20 percent in nursing homes.

The high number of deaths in intensive care units and institutional settings is largely due to the medical system’s default tendency to try to “cure” terminally ill patients, even when they have incurable, irreversible diseases. As a result, many people endure needless suffering at life’s end, and their agonizing, prolonged deaths traumatize their loved ones.

But there are options for terminally ill adults who don’t want to suffer and value quality of life over quantity of life. Terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live are eligible for free hospice and comfort care benefits under Medicare and Medicaid. Hospice and palliative care relieve suffering for some terminally ill patients, but when they don’t, there is an additional option called “medical aid in dying.” 

“Hospice and palliative care often work wonders, but contrary to popular belief, they do not relieve every patient’s suffering,” said Donna Smith, Compassion & Choices State Director of Advocacy for Maryland and DC. “Medical aid in dying allows patients to have the voluntary option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take—if and when their suffering becomes unbearable—so they can die peacefully in their sleep, at home, surrounded by their loved ones.”

Medical aid in dying is available for mentally capable, terminally ill adults with a medical prognosis of six months or less to live in the District of Columbia and ten states (Maryland and Virginia have introduced similar legislation).

Having end-of-life care options can provide comfort to terminally ill adults, whether they utilize it or not, because it ensures they won’t have to suffer needlessly at life’s end. Medical aid in dying laws can benefit even those who don’t need—or oppose—the practice, by encouraging conversations between terminally ill adults, their loved ones, physicians and religious/spiritual advisers about all end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care. It is important to note that this is completely voluntary for the patient, doctors and pharmacists.

Of surveyed Marylanders, 57 percent said they personally “would want the option of medical aid in dying” if they “had an incurable, terminal illness, still had a sound mind, had less than six months to live and met the legal requirements,” according to a poll of 807 registered voters conducted by Gonzales Research and Media Services in December 2021. Nearly 70 percent of those polled supported the option of medical aid in dying for Marylanders. Doctors interested in this end-of-life care option can talk with other doctors with years of experience in this practice by calling Compassion & Choices’ free Doc2Doc consultation phone line at 800.247.7421 or emailing doc2doc@compassionandchoices.org. And pharmacists can get free information about filling medical aid-in-dying prescriptions by calling: 503.943.6517.

For more information, visit compassionandchoices.org. 


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