BOSTON, MA (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Medical technology has brought us breakthroughs and life-saving treatments, allowing millions to live longer, but at what point is it too much?
Innovative surgeries, potent drugs and high-tech machines. Today, there are more ways to keep us alive than ever before! Judy Lucas knows, doctors told her husband of 39 years he had fatal pancreatic cancer
"We were shocked, absolutely shocked," Judy Lucas told Ivanhoe.
George tried chemo and radiation to give himself more time, but the side effects became unbearable.
"He finally said, ‘that’s it,’" Judy said.
George decided he wanted to die with his loved ones by his side and without harsh treatments wearing him down. It’s a manner of death doctor Ken Murray says most physicians would choose themselves.
"These things, I think most doctors don’t look at as prolonging life. They look at it as prolonging death," Ken Murray, MD, author of How Doctor’s Die, explained.
Murray’s blog has become an internet sensation. In it he writes about how so many of his colleagues, when it comes to their own care, refuse dialysis, ventilators and most commonly resuscitation.
"We know how terrible the results are from cpr," Dr. Murray said. "I’ve done it hundreds of times, and I can count on one hand the people who actually did ok."
He describes aggressive treatment at the end of life as "misery we would not inflict on a terrorist" but says patients often request therapies to the very end.
"People are sicker now before they die than at any time in human history," Ira Byock, M.D., a palliative care specialist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, and author of Best Care Possible, said.
He says dying is becoming harder for patients and their families.
"The fact is there are worse things than having someone you love die. Most basically, it’s having the person you love die badly," Dr. Byock said.
Doctor Heidi Klepin agrees some may be treated for too long, but she warns others, especially older patients may be undertreated.
"Don’t make an assumption for example that an 80 year old can’t benefit and tolerate standard therapy for a given cancer," Heidi D. Klepin, M.D., MS, an assistant professor of internal medicine hematology and oncology at Wake Forest Baptist Health, said.
In one study just 50 percent of patients 75 years or older with stage three colon cancer received chemo after surgery compared to 87 percent of younger patients. A recent British report states "under-treatment" is a contributing factor in about 14-thousand avoidable cancer deaths in patients 75 and older each year. Doctors told 91-year-old Bill Owen not to try any treatment when he was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma.
"The doctor that we had at that time said to come home and enjoy what we had," Barbara Owen,
Bill’s wife, told Ivanhoe.
Bill got a second opinion and five years after chemo and radiation he’s going strong. The right treatment saved his life.
"I still go all day long," Bill Owen said.
For George and Judy, hospice care has made a difficult time a little easier.
"You get the chance to say things about loving, and yeah, it’s been good," an emotional Judy said.
A decision about dying we’ll all have to face. What will you choose? Aggressive treatment at the end of life is also expensive. It can cost up to 10 thousand dollars a day to maintain someone in ICU. By law, Medicare cannot reject any treatment based on cost. In 2009, Medicare spent 50 billion dollars for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients’ lives. That’s more than the budgets for homeland security or the department of education. MORE
Click here for additional research on Too Much: Living?
Click here for Ivanhoe's full-length interview with Dr. Ira Byock
Click here for Ivanhoe's full-length interview with Dr. Ken Murray
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