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Letter to the Editor: Make dying with dignity a choice

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In his column "Let's be honest about death counseling" Charles Krauthammer stated that doctors, in an end-of-life conference, will push terminally ill patients to end treatment. He is wrong. Both my grandfathers died recently. One suffered from a debilitating stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure. His family doctor refused to authorize hospice care. Luckily, his cardiologist gave consent, and my grandfather died peacefully at home. The other grandfather suffered from non-Hodgkins' lymphoma and metastasized prostate cancer. He had no difficulty getting hospice. But two of his specialists tried to talk him into continuing treatment, even though cancer had spread to his brain. He, too, died peacefully at home. I cannot say enough good things about hospice care or the courage my grandfathers demonstrated in choosing it.

The fact is that, once my grandfathers were placed on hospice care, their family practitioners, specialists and hospitals lost them as patients. Any current physician is financially motivated to continue treatment as long as possible, rather than, as Krauthammer stated, urging patients to die. Hospice care saved my grandfathers and family members not only needless anguish and suffering but also thousands of dollars in futile treatment. An end-of-life conference will return control to the patient who wishes to avoid prolonged and expensive treatment for a terminal illness, and compassionate doctors will honor that choice. We will all die. We all deserve the opportunity to die with dignity and without unnecessary medical procedures, as my grandfathers did. Our new health care plan must provide that opportunity.

REBECCA HENSON, Fredericktown, Mo.