The recent decision by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to transition to hospice brings much-needed attention to this crucial part of health care. Hospice care is an essential and compassionate component of modern medicine, providing support and care to patients and families during the most challenging time of their lives. Historically, hospice care has been long stigmatized as giving up on treatment. However, the truth is the opposite. Hospice provides comfort and support at the end of their lives (typically defined as expected survival of <6 months). When patients begin hospice care, the focus shifts to managing symptoms, emotional support, and spiritual care to alleviate the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain that often accompanies a terminal illness.
Hospice providers work with patients and families to develop individualized care plans that address their needs and preferences. However, it is essential to note that there are only two reasons to perform a procedure – to make someone live longer or to make them live better. Hospice care can complement procedural medicine by focusing on the latter, aiming to improve the patient’s quality of life and alleviate suffering. Hospice care providers work closely with medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, and social workers, to ensure that patients receive comprehensive medical care. Working together can offer various services, including pain management, symptom relief, and emotional support. Hospice care is provided in multiple settings, such as the patient’s home, a hospice facility, or a hospital.
The teachings from the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient text of Hinduism, offer guidance on approaching the end-of-life journey. The Gita emphasizes focusing on the present and detaching from material desires. This perspective can help individuals and their families navigate the end-of-life journey with peace and acceptance. Perhaps more than all other disciplines of medicine, there is now increasing recognition that hospice care can help patients navigate the intersection of science and spirituality.
Although hospice care has been politicized as “death panels,” it is not a death sentence. Instead, hospice is a component of modern medicine that provides support and care to patients and their families during difficult times. Hospice care providers understand the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of facing a terminal illness. Furthermore, by working closely with procedural medicine, hospice care can provide a more comprehensive, patient-centered approach, improving the patient’s quality of life and providing the best possible support.
Saurabh Gupta is an interventional cardiologist.