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Palliative Care: Dispel the myth of hastening death

Dr. Tom Hutchinson (MB, FRCP, Professor, Department of Medicine and Department of Oncology, Director, McGill Programs in Whole Person Care), explores quality vs. quantity of life. Transcripts parts were taken by interview provided to the Canadian Virtual Hospice, and was released by Creative Commons license.

The illusion that people have is that we can prolong life almost in any situation. And that the key to prolonging life is more treatment. So, people say “Oh, you don’t do everything you can”, “Don’t give up”, “Keep giving him the chemo”, assuming that that will actually prolong people’s lives.

I don’t really think mostly this does prolong life. It does bring a lot of suffering. And what the corresponding side tends to think, is that palliative care will mean shortening life.

Now, there are some recent studies – one in New England Journal in lung cancer. Everybody already knows about it, but the studies actually show that apparently palliative care prolongs life. I’m not surprised about that, because what I see is that patients who transfer to palliative care, their quality of life improves. They start to feel better in themselves, they start to do better, and that’s probably better for all aspects. They probably live longer.

You see, people have this illusion that medicine could do anything. It can’t. I mean, you can do some things, but it’s surprisingly relatively limited, in terms of prolonging the life of somebody with a serious disease.

And thus I don’t think that’s a choice of black-and-white, of either medical intervention to prolong life, or quality of life. I think by focusing on quality of life, you’re not actually giving up. You may think that you are, but you’re probably not giving up as much. At  least not as much as families often think they are.

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