KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

End-Of-Life Care Raises Difficult Questions About Quality Issues

PBS Frontline has kicked off a series called "Facing Death," which explores the way Americans die, issues around extending life or prolonging death, uncertainty, talking about the end of life and modern medicine's trade offs (11/23).

The New York Times, on the series: "At the heart of the documentary, which was filmed at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and is to be shown Tuesday on PBS, is the issue of modern medicine as both blessing and curse. Aggressive treatments can now keep terminally ill patients alive, often in states of pain and profound misery, for additional weeks or even months, but at great physical, emotional and literal cost. With health care expenses rising, there is obviously much concern about the billions of dollars a year spent on end-of-life care. … What makes the film difficult to watch is that the dying people featured are typically middle-aged or young, with every incentive to want to keep going and experimenting" (Bellafonte, 11/22).

CNN reports on end-of-life conversations: "Barack Levin recently showed his children where the kidneys are in a human anatomy book, trying to explain why their daddy has been taking so many pills and feeling so tired. What he didn't tell the 5- and 6-year-old is that he has been preparing for his own death since age 26, when he was told he had five years to live. He's hoping that his kidneys will hold up a while longer, so he can watch his kids grow up. November is the month of turkey-carving and football-watching, but it's also a time of difficult, important conversations. The nonprofit organization Engage With Grace is launching its third annual 'blog rally' on November 24 to promote communication and critical thinking about end-of-life issues among family members and loved ones. Last year, about 100 bloggers posted a guide to people asking these important questions of themselves and their family members" (Landau, 11/23).

ABC News reports on ", a health and wellness social network that covers a wide range of health conditions, diseases, and topics. … With more than 150,000 members, attracts people from all over the globe who have been diagnosed with a variety of illnesses" including Jim Stanicki who recently started palliative care (Conley, 11/23).

Medscape: "Doctors are sharply divided over the question of physician-assisted suicide. In August-September 2010, Medscape electronically surveyed over 10,000 physicians representing all specialties. Respondents answered a series of ethics questions, including the following: 'Are there situations in which physician-assisted suicide should be allowed?' Of the more respondents, 45.8% answered 'Yes'; 40.7% answered 'No'; and 13.5% said 'It depends'" (Guglielmo, 11/23).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.