My Father's Beautiful Death
Hospice care gave him a dignified transition. I wish more black people knew about this option.
"If we had more outreach programs to educate people about things like this, it would make a big difference."
Early in the health care reform debate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin criticized President Obama's plan for reform for fostering "death panels" to determine who among the elderly should get medical care. Looking back, I can't believe how ridiculously insulting that argument was.
Medicare, which is constantly under fiscal threat, is largely used by the elderly, many who do not have the insurance coverage to take care of their needs. Conservatives have yet to come up with a plan that would help families actually make their most difficult decisions, and thus the cost of dying remains pointlessly high in this country.
In 2009, Medicare paid more than $50 billion for doctor and hospital bills in the final two months of patients' lives, but an estimated 20 to 30 percent of this spending had no effect. However, up to 20 percent of Americans spend their final moments in an ICU, according to CBS News.
What's more, a University of Pittsburgh study shows that a disproportionate number of African Americans remain in an ICU until they die, never knowing of the options my family had when it came to my father. Studies suggest that a cultural divide exists when it comes to making this decision. Research done by Duke University Medical Center shows that blacks may seek aggressive treatment for diseases even when chances of survival are low. This also suggests that because many prefer this method, they may not be aware of hospice options.
According to Hospicenet.org, patients and their families should know they can discuss hospice care at any time between themselves, physicians, spiritual advisers and friends. "At any time during a life-limiting illness, it's appropriate to discuss all of a patient's care options, including hospice. By law the decision belongs to the patient. Most hospices accept patients who have a life expectancy of six months or less and who are referred by their personal physician," the website says.