Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Palliative care from a Christian perspective [Matt C. Abbott Column]

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...
A patient having his blood pressure taken by a physician. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Palliative Care: A Physician's Perspective

Informed by Christian Faith and Traditional Professionalism

By Ralph A. Capone, MD

Palliative care is both a new medical specialty and an approach to patient care that is much discussed today. It is an elusive and provocative topic for patients and health care professionals alike, because its meaning is determined by which of two broad perspectives is under consideration.

One view of palliative care incorporates the traditional patient-centered role of physicians. This heritage directs doctors to address each patient one at a time, attending to their individual needs. In this way, the physician directlybenefits the patient and only indirectly advances the overall health of society and the common good. From this perspective, authentic palliative care is a legitimate approach to caring for patients who are seeking assistance to alleviate their suffering. Benefit accrues to both the individual patient and the common good when practitioners of palliative care promote a medical culture that values each patient's decision-making authority.

The alternative perspective considers palliative care to be primarily a means fordirectly supporting the common good. This perspective strikes fear in those who realize that palliative care is misused when it becomes a tool for reducing health care expenditures by limiting patient care. They observe a palliative care system in which physicians target patients with poor prognoses and/or poor functional ability and those approaching end of life, thereby placing the elderly and chronically ill at risk.
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