In explaining his recent signing of the End-of-Life Option Act, Governor Brown wrote, “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill."

These comments highlight a general lack of understanding about end-of-life symptom management and hospice care. Fortunately, this new bill affords more options than simply requesting life-ending medications. When a terminally ill patient expresses an interest in ending their own life with medication, the bill requires that their physician offer them other alternatives. Hospice care is one of those alternatives and perhaps the most warranted, as it addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects that arise at the end of life.

The underlying philosophy of the hospice movement is that we do not prolong life nor do we hasten death.  It is our mission to provide services that support and comfort patients and their loved ones through life’s final stages, helping them live their best life for the rest of their life.

Hospice honors each patient’s goals and treatment preferences, ensuring their control over their own life decisions. It also provides support for family & caregivers throughout the process, including bereavement services for 13 months after the loss of their loved one. Hospice helps to alleviate a patient’s fears – fear of pain, fear of burdening their families, or fear of being alone at the end of their life.

Hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurances. Hospice East Bay, like many other hospices, works individually with patients who have no insurance or lack the financial ability to afford hospice care. With the widespread availability of hospice and palliative care, the choice should rarely be between “dying in prolonged, excruciating pain” and physician-assisted death.

Thirty years ago, if you had asked people on the street about hospice care, they wouldn’t have known a thing. Today people know more but not enough. Over and over again, I hear the same two things from grateful family members. The first is, “Thank you, we couldn’t have done it without you.” The second is, “We wish we had started hospice sooner.” We need to do a better job of helping families understand the benefits of hospice care and plan for what kind of care they would want at the end of their own lives.

We view the passage of this legislation as an important opportunity to promote discussion amongst families about their end-of-life options and educate them about the true benefits of hospice care.

 

Cindy Hatton
President & CEO
Hospice East Bay