Does Hospice Mean I'm Giving Up?

Question:  Does hospice and palliative care mean that I am giving up?  Some people believe when you sign on for hospice care you sign away your rights to just about everything--medical treatment, your personal physician, your ability to make decisions.  Some may believe that palliative care allows only for a morphine drip.

 Answer:  No, Nothing could be further from the truth.

The focus of hospice and palliative care is quality of life. We intend for the patient to get the most out of the time he or she has. Many treatments are available through hospice. In the last year we had a patient on our service who had a painful mass growing in the side of her neck. The mass was exerting pressure on the nerves of her arm, and her arm got very weak. We arranged for the patient to have radiation treatments for palliative purposes. She completely regained the use of her arm, which made a tremendous difference in her quality of life. Medicare regulations require that a hospice provide physical therapy services when needed. We always try to balance the need for pain relief with the patient's desire for alertness and being engaged with family.

A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that early palliative care improves quality of life and may actually lead to longer survival. The patients receiving palliative care had less depression, less anxiety, and survived on average about three months longer than the control population. This study is a powerful rebuttal to the misconception that choosing hospice and palliative care is giving up.