Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that families have to make some very hard decisions about care for loved ones as they encounter aging or illness. After reading an article in The Sacramento Bee, it is clear that there is even more difficulty when a doctor’s own personal beliefs or religion are opposed to the wishes of the patient and her or his family.
According to a study published by the Journal of Medical Ethics, nonreligious doctors seem to be more likely to discuss the wishes of the patient for end-of-life care, whereas some doctors with very strong religious beliefs are less willing to abide by those wishes.
An example cited by the author of the SacBee article, Dr. Michael Wilkes of the University of California, Davis, involves a patient with pneumonia, suffering from Alzheimer’s. Given the patient’s Alzheimer’s, he did not want to be treated, and his son agreed. They actually had to change doctors in order to insist on changing doctors before their wishes were followed.
As Dr. Wilkes points out, laws exist to protect the wishes of the patients, but “many doctors march to their own drummer.”
The key message for all of us is very similar to yesterday’s. Talk about your wishes. Document your instructions. Make sure the family and anyone with power of attorney understands. Know what the law entitles you to in terms of choices. Then insist on your rights.
Best wishes, Bert