Palliative Care a Hot-Button Issue in North America

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Palliative care, the type of care administered to people with the aim of preventing and relieving pain and suffering, is a much-debated topic across North America. What first seems like a no-brainer – improving the quality of life for the ill – is an issue that goes much deeper than that.


What is Palliative Care?

For people suffering from a terminal or ongoing illness that causes much suffering, palliative care addresses the symptoms, not the cause. It makes no effort to cure the person or attack the disease, and that’s where the point of contention lies. Many people believe that to improve quality of life, the disease causing the suffering needs to be eradicated. But those in support of palliative care, a medical approach which utilizes a team of professionals (e.g. doctors, nurses, chaplains, social workers, etc.) and combines it with administering medications and treatments, believe that the patient’s immediate concerns are most pressing.

For example, palliative care is commonly used with terminally ill cancer patients. And for those who are elderly and suffering from terminal cancer, chemotherapy or radiation can be particularly traumatic to endure. Instead of treating the person with more rounds of extremely strong medication with even stronger side effects, a senior may choose to forgo typical cancer treatment and focus on simply alleviating the nausea and body pain that frequently accompany cancer.

Opponents to Palliative Care

However, as much as some believe palliative care to be the answer, there is a camp that is just as strongly convinced it isn’t. Medication and treatment administered in palliative care is done without the intent of having a curative effect on the underlying disorder. Opponents see palliative care as giving up, abandoning a fight without exhausting all the options, or as accepting a death sentence when they may believe that’s not the case. It’s also, as the New York Times notes, more expensive on average, as certain medical services like X-Rays, doctor visits, and visits with other members of the treating team, might not be covered by health insurance. And providing around-the-clock care can be a big load that not every family can take on, increasing the emotional and physical stress on both patient and provider.</p?

Benefits of Palliative Care

The New York Times has also published two other articles on palliative care, with the most recent one addressing the need of when to enter into palliative care and what the benefits are. The other article, published three years ago, discusses how palliative care with oncology treatment actually increased the lives of terminal lung cancer patients than those treated with only oncology treatments.

While palliative care may not be the right solution for every senior, it’s a treatment plan that definitely merits looking into. And for your senior, it just may be the missing ingredient to improve the quality of life for them.