This study demonstrates an important point: Hospice care can extend life because, relieved of much suffering by proper care, patients can actually live longer than if they were not receiving such treatment. From the story:

“This [the study’s results] should be reassuring to those faced with life-threatening illness and their families who are considering hospice care,” Dr. Stephen R. Connor of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization based in Alexandria, Virginia, told Reuters Health. Hospice care is not “giving up.” It is choosing to live life fully to the end, he said.

Connor and colleagues analyzed the survival of 4,493 terminally ill patients who died within a 3-year period. A total of 2,095 of them received hospice care. Survival was measured as the time to death after a defined “indicative date” of the beginning of the terminal stage of illness. The team reports in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management that hospice patients lived an average of 29 days longer than non-hospice patients.

Yes, yes, I have heard the stories of hastened deaths occurring in hospices. But I remain convinced that while there are a few bad eggs, most hospices are dedicated to the proper care of their patients until natural death.

And this seems a good time to point out something about assisted suicide and hospice: If hospice is indeed “choosing to live life fully to the end,” then when a doctor assists the suicide of a hospice patient, he or she is in complete violation of the hospice medical philosophy. Thus, when Oregon advocates for assisted suicide claim that patients were in hospice when committing assisted suicide, what they are really saying is that the facilitators of these suicides interfered with the proper application of hospice medicine—which explicitly includes suicide prevention in cases where patients become suicidal. But suicide prevention is not a required part of the Oregon law.

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