Palliative care fits Catholic health mission, but too few aware of it
Published: September 20, 2012
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The National Palliative Care Research Center estimates that 90 million Americans are living with serious or life-threatening illnesses and the number is expected to double over the next 25 years. People nearing the end of life and their families often are confused about the options available to them in terms of pain control and about whether they have an obligation to use all of the life-prolonging technology available to them. These discussions are particularly lively among Catholics and in the West Coast states where physician-assisted suicide is a legal option. In Washington, the latest state to legalize assisted suicide, Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane offers an alternative way of dying. It provides "comfort care suites" that allow family members to stay with their dying relative in a homelike environment. Music thanatologists specially trained to soothe the seriously ill with their voices or the playing of harps are on staff. Health care professionals participate in education programs on palliative medicine and the ethical, moral and legal issues involved in end-of-life care. A meditation garden outside the hospital is open 24 hours a day and gives family members and patients who are well enough an opportunity to experience a peaceful area of waterfalls, streams and walking paths. At TrinityKids Care, a pediatric hospice program in Torrance, Calif., teams made up of a pediatrician, a registered nurse, a clinical social worker, a chaplain, a home health aide and specially trained volunteers help dying children and their families make the most of their last days, whether at home or in a hospital or nursing home setting. Anything from household chores to looking after siblings can be part of the hospice program, and the team also offers family counseling and grief and bereavement services when needed. These kinds of programs are duplicated throughout the country, but too few people know about them when the time comes for them to use them. "Most palliative care patients come in late," said Dr. Scott Miller, team physician at the Center for Compassionate Care in Pittsburgh.
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