Yesterday the New York Times published a must-read op-ed by Susan Jacoby about the costly disconnect between Americans’ values and their practices when it comes to end-of-life health care. Just a few key statistical takeaways:
A third of the Medicare budget is now spent in the last year of life, and a third of that goes for care in the last month. Those figures would surely be lower if more Americans, while they were still healthy, took the initiative to spell out what treatments they do — and do not — want by writing living wills and appointing health care proxies.
[A]dvance directives aren’t “death panels”; they can also be used to ensure the deployment of every tool of modern medicine. They can be changed or withdrawn at any time by a mentally competent person.
But public opinion polls consistently show that most Americans, like my mother, worry about too much rather than too little medical intervention. In a Pew Research Center poll released in 2006, only 22 percent said a doctor should always try to save a patient’s life, while 70 percent believed that patients should sometimes be allowed to die. More than half said they would tell their doctor to end treatment if they were in great pain with no hope of improvement.
Yet only 69 percent had discussed end-of-life care with a spouse; just 17 percent, or 40 percent of those over 65, had done so with their children. One-third of Americans had a living will and even fewer have taken the more legally enforceable measure of appointing a health care proxy to act on their behalf if they cannot act for themselves.
And Jacoby’s sensible values priorities:
As someone over 65, I do not consider it my duty to die for the convenience of society. I do consider it my duty, to myself and younger generations, to follow the example my mother set by doing everything in my power to ensure that I will never be the object of medical intervention that cannot restore my life but can only prolong a costly living death.