The coming out of palliative care

A very moving and informative article in The New York Times this past week focused on palliative care--a topic many people often don't think about until it's brought up in an end-of-life situation. "At the End, Offering Not a Cure but Comfort" makes a case for palliative care and end-of-life planning, a subject that has been, I guess, 'misunderstood' by some politicians and members of the media quite a bit lately. The article does a great service in showing the benefit of end-of-life planning for the patient and the family. Unfortunately, it also shows us that we have a ways to go, especially in tackling the subject head on--doctors don't want to talk about it, family members are hesitant or feel it's giving up on their loved ones, while patients may not understand the severity of their disease.One barrier is people don't know how to initiate the conversation--doctors, family members, or patients. And when it is brought up, the other person may not want to hear it.In our Spring 2009 issue, Kathy LaTour wrote about end-of-life and palliative care in "The Final Journey," in which she chronicled the last few months of the life of Judy Abernathy, a terminal cancer patient. The family's openness about Judy's pending death was truly a gift to those who are in a similar situation. After this article was published, we received a great amount of mail showing us people are hungry for this kind of information. One reader wrote: "...Being a spiritual man (a former Franciscan friar), my faith has always been my source of strength and comfort. My life partner and my family and friends have continued to be a sustaining power and force in my life. Yet in all of this, I could not share with them the possibility of my death and my dying. When I would bring up the subject, they would always manage to change the subject or in some 'kind' way, make light of it..." Another wrote, ".... It is a subject that crosses the mind of anyone touched by cancer at least 100 times, and one that few are willing to discuss..." While another said the article helped to prepare her for a family member's coming death. I also recommend you spend a few minutes reading the reader comments on the Times site. The more palliative care and end-of-life issues are discussed and brought into the open, the easier it will be for these discussions to happen among family members, medical professionals and their patients, and even policy makers and the public.