New Ideas About End-of-Life (EOL) Health Consultations

Early versions of the proposed health care reform included mandated end-of-life consultations for the elderly, every five years.  Although the final version of the bill may not include this piece of the original plan, this is being touted by its opponents as a way of teaching the elderly to commit suicide.  However, I think that when we approach this issue from a godly perspective, then these end-of-life consultations could have some value.  Maybe they could help us weigh the alternatives of how we want to spend our dying years.  Consider these examples:

– Maybe they could help us to reevaluate our priorities.  The mere fact that God has left each of us here indicates that He’s not through with us yet, and we still have a purpose to fulfil.  How can we best determine what that purpose is, in order to bring the maximum amount of glory to Him by optimizing the time that we may have left on this earth?

– They might help us realize that the dozens of prescription medications pills that we take every day may actually be doing us more harm than good.  Maybe we should (at least temporarily) discontinue all or part of our daily regimen of prescription drugs.  Since we take so many, how do we even know which ones, if any, are even beneficial for us.  After all, the FDA hasn’t conducted extensive research on that particular combination of pills that each individual currently takes.  How do we know that it’s better to suffer from the cumulative side effects of all of these pills than to withstand the symptoms that originally made us seek medical advice?  How do we know that the effects of one drug don’t destroy the benefits of another?  How do we know that a particular pill will have the same effect on us as it did on the majority of those in selected studies?  After all, not everyone in those studies was helped by it, and many may have even been harmed by it.  These people who didn’t fare so well are often the source of the long list of side effects associated with each drug.

Maybe age 65 or so is a good time to empty all of our pill bottles into the sink and start over.  After all, we’re still not feeling that well even with the pills, so (may I dare say it), maybe our doctors were wrong.  Maybe our bodies are so full of pharmaceutical chemicals that we’re sick because of the prescription drugs, not because we’re aging.  Many of the problems for which we seek medical help may indeed simply be a part of the normal aging process.  Maybe some counseling would be a good idea, so that we can learn what to expect from normal aging, and make an intelligent decision about continuing to take our dozens of daily pills, or experimenting by discontinuing some or all of them.

– Maybe we should stop the endless cycle of undergoing more and more surgeries that may or may not help.  Maybe it would help to have someone explain what to expect if we don’t have a particular surgery, as well as what to expect if we do have it.  We undergo far too many unnecessary and expensive surgical procedures or tests that only result in more referrals to new doctors with new specialties who perform more (and often the same) tests and surgeries.  Maybe artery bypass surgery or a knee replacement operation is not always the best solution.  By the way, is anyone even telling these people how long the surgery will require them to stay in the hospital, and the amount of pain and the quality of life to expect for a considerable amount of time after they come home?

Furthermore, what about the many surgeries that don’t go so well.  When a doctor says that we have a 95% probability of surviving a bypass surgery, we seem to be sure that we’re in that 95% group.  However, five people out of every 100 will die.  Some people don’t even survive the preliminary (and quite invasive) angiogram procedure.

When the doctor says that we have a 70% chance of having minimal or no complications after that knee replacement, what about the 30% that will indeed have considerable problems?  Some of that group will be wishing they had never had the surgery, and they will believe that the doctor deceived them about the benefits to be expected.

What about those who are (not uncommonly) attacked by a staff infection during their stay in the hospital?  Some of those people die, and others endure much suffering that would have been avoided if they had just stayed at home and dealt with the symptoms of their problem.

– Maybe somebody needs to explain to us that we are each empowered by God to be responsible for our own body and health, just as each individual is responsible for his own spiritual well-being (Acts 17:11, Galatians 6:5, 1 Peter 2:5-9).  We have elevated doctors to such an extent that we simply entrust our bodies to them.  Don’t we understand that we’re each just a test case, and a statistic, for each doctor who treats us?  Over time, he might learn to make some intelligent recommendations, but meanwhile, we must each take charge of our own health care.  Doctors work for us, not us for the doctors.  In far too many cases, we just march into the doctor’s office, at his beck and call, and when he says that we need surgery, we continue marching into the hospital, we allow total strangers to perform the most invasive and intrusive procedures upon our bodies, and many of us just keep right on marching into the cemetery.

I believe that if a doctor wants to perform a test in order to rule out a potential cause of a problem, then we need to ask him how much it costs.  Then we should research that problem and its symptoms ourselves.  If our research convinces us that we do not have that problem, or simply that the test is not worth it, then we should inform the doctor that we won’t be undergoing that test.  We should instruct him to now proceed to Plan B, and let him know that we will eventually deliver our decision to him about it as well.

Some professional consultation might truly be beneficial toward the end of our lives.  The field of geriatrics is growing, and perhaps we need a single primary medical contact, instead of just allowing ourselves to be passed from specialist to specialist, each of whom orders the same unnecessary tests and then adds his own new unnecessary procedure.  We only need to empower ourselves to take charge of our own health care, and at the same time we should be educating ourselves on our particular issues.  We might have end-of-life consultations or we might seek advice from a geriatric specialist or another doctor.  However, we should remember that we’re each in charge of our own individual bodies.  We seek out counsel, and then we make the decision for ourselves, not only on what will be done, but also how much it will cost.  The buck (literally) stops here.

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