Counseling Improves Life's End. Surprise!

Knowledge, care and compassion really do bring peace. Why should this be a surprise? And why should a few strident opponents prevent those approaching life’s end from having this benefit?

A study appearing in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association points out the benefits of end-of-life counseling, although the widespread misinformation loose in the land may have doomed what should be a significant piece of health reform.

As a political uproar rages over end-of-life counseling, a new study finds offering such care to dying cancer patients improves their mood and quality of life.

The study of 322 patients in rural New Hampshire and Vermont also suggests the counseling didn’t discourage people from going to the hospital.

The Senate bill provision axed by Finance Committee chair Charles Grassley would have allowed coverage for conversations with physicians about things like hospice care, advance directives and treatment options.  But to opponents of reform, it was a handy attack mechanism. They enlisted a few standard bearers like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and media darling Rush Limbaugh to twist the issue into menacing “death panels,” and in no time at all Sen. Grassley had his excuse to excise.

Losers in this are all of us. Eventually, 100% of us will die. Aggressive treatment and expensive, futile procedures are common today to that experience; compassion and peace are harder to come by.

In the new study, trained nurses did the counseling with patients and family caregivers using a model based on national guidelines. All the patients in the study had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Half were assigned to receive usual care. The other half received usual care plus counseling about managing symptoms, communicating with health care providers and finding hospice care.

Patients who got the counseling scored higher on quality of life and mood measures than patients who did not.

Could someone please get this information to Sarah Palin?

Study: End-of-life advice aids terminally ill.


  1. Where are all the people who are outraged when doctors and hospitals put people on life support systems and keep them alive against the wishes of the family and probably the patient too, while generating obscene charges that may bankrupt the patient or family.

    1. Unfortunately, they aren’t organized and don’t have lobbyists. But there are groups fighting hard for individual end-of-life choice ( maybe we shouldn’t give up yet on the issue getting into the final health reform bill. If they could talk about it, which is all the provision would guarantee, few would choose the final days you cite for themselves.

  2. Thanks for calling my attention to this JAMA article, Fran. I’ll be sure to read the entire
    piece next time I’m at the office, where the new issue will be available. Meanwhile, I just printed out the full text of Section 1233 of HB 3200 so I can study its language for myself. I’m looking forward to more of your postings now that you’ve enticed me into becoming an official True/Slanter.

  3. Hopefully good data and clear-thinking will get through to some. I fear that our deaths are just collateral damage in the Republican effort to destroy not just healthcare, but the Obama Presidency. Thanks for posting this study.

    1. You’re probably right on both counts. But I think there’s still a strong movement on,, even the single-payer sites (though I do believe single payer is dead & gone for now) to keep sanity, and decent health reform, alive.

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