Aid-in-Dying Law Highlights Palliative Care Needs

Home health providers see an opportunity for expanding palliative care, and recently passed laws are bringing this type of care into the spotlight—but not without controversy.

Doctors who offer palliative care in California are grappling with what the state’s Oct. 5 passage of the End of Life Option Act means for them and their patients, according to an article published in The Washington Post.

Though California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the End of Life Option Act into state law almost two months ago, the law is not scheduled to take effect until 2016.

The Washington Post article discusses the goal of palliative care, and explains that although the practice has become more widespread in recent years, gaps in its availability still exist. Citing a recent report by the California HealthCare Foundation, the Post said that individuals living in one-third of California counties do not have access to inpatient palliative care.

Meanwhile, doctors who offer palliative care say the California law highlights the need to increase awareness about what they do and to increase access to the services they offer.

R. Sean Morrison, a professor of geriatrics and palliative-care medicine at Mt. Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York, said support for aid-in-dying law is an indication of “how terrified patients are of what they will experience at the end of life,” The Washington Post reported.

Morrison added that once patients who ask to end their life get their spiritual needs addressed and their symptoms controlled, the overwhelming majority wish to keep living.

Carin van Zyl, the head of palliative care medicine at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, explained her personal dilemma with the law.

“I don’t have a logical answer why I would want it for myself but not want to offer it to my patients,” she told the Post. “I don’t know why I am still sitting on this fence that is increasingly pointy and uncomfortable.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson