A new law going into effect in California will allow terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to request life-ending medication from a physician.
Although no such legislation has been introduced in Florida, the passage of this statute underscores the importance of discussing patient’s final wishes with physicians and family members alike.
Palliative care physician Dr. Elizabeth Teague works to provide critically ill patients with an improved quality of life. She said, most of the time, her treatments can alleviate or address patients’ suffering, allowing them to make the final months or years of their lives meaningful to them.
“When you can change … that pain and symptoms that negatively impact their quality of life, and turn it into something positive that allows them to enjoy their family, enjoy their friends,” Teague said, “it gives them that opportunity for closure.”
Teague works closely with her patients and care team to navigate the best course of treatment for each individual case.
“My goal, and my team’s goal, is to sit down and define their [the patient’s] quality of life,” she said. “We … try and empower them with the information that they need in a way that they can understand it, so that they can make appropriate treatment choices.”
Bioethicist and University of Florida College of Medicine professor Lauren Solberg works to educate medical students on how to have these critical conversations with patients.
“We talk quite a bit about advance directives. We talk about the different options,” Solberg said. “We talk about patient autonomy, and we talk about having the conversations with patients about their options as they approach the end of their lives.”
In Florida, some of these options could include the choice to continue treatment, the choice to discontinue “extraordinary means” of treatment, or to utilize palliative hospice care to help ease the patient and family’s suffering.
The topic of end of life care can be difficult to broach, but Solberg said open communication is key to following patients’ wishes.
“Patients should feel free to have conversations with their doctors about their preferences,” Solberg said. “They should feel free to talk to their families and their loved ones about their preferences.”