For many, end-of-life discussions are either unpleasant, brief, or unlikely to happen at all. But, as a recent episode of PBS' Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly emphasized, it is critically important that patients have open and honest conversations on the topic with their family members and doctors.
The piece featured Philip Pizzo, MD, former dean of Stanford's medical school and co-author of the 2014 Institute of Medicine’s 500-page report titled “Dying in America," and VJ Periyakoil, MD, director of Stanford’s Palliative Care Education and Training. Through the Stanford Letter Project, Periyakoil is on a quest to empower patients and help stimulate a broad national discussion on what matters most at life's end. She says in the piece:
I think the biggest challenge is people don’t want to make plans and have discussions because the topic is so threatening to them. So what happens is because they don’t plan for it, they are subjected to treatments that are A, not helpful and B, not what they want.
I helped facilitate the interviews with Periyakoil and Pizzo last October; coincidentally around that time, my older sister suddenly fell ill and died unexpectedly. One of the things that came up was whether or not she had an advance directive and, fortunately for my family, my sister (who was just 46 years old) had written down her wishes and no one was left wondering or tasked to make a difficult decision. I know firsthand how beneficial the work of Periyakoil and others can be.
Previously: No one wants to talk about dying, but we all need to, Study: Doctors would choose less aggressive end-of-life care for themselves, How would you like to die? Tell your doctor in a letter, Stanford doctor on a mission to empower patients to talk about end-of-life issues and Medicare to pay for end-of-life conversations with patients