Living and dying well

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Home > Media > News > Living and dying well
Living and dying well

By Dr Helen Lord
MB BS MPHC FAChPM
GP and Palliative Medicine Specialist

The hospice and palliative care movements have their roots in the early Middle Ages in Europe. Christian organisations built and ran hospices where the sick, wounded and dying could be accommodated and cared for, along with travellers and pilgrims. This hospitality was the forerunner of the modern hospice movement, which combined evidence-based medicine with excellent nursing skills. The vision and dedication of Dr Cecily Saunders saw the opening of the first modern hospice in Brompton in the UK in 1967.

The principles that guided this development were patient-centred; they concentrated on relief of symptoms including pain and suffering, involved the family as the unit of care and used a team approach incorporating doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, volunteers and pastoral carers.

Palliative care has evolved since then and the hospice movement is now worldwide. Each region of Tasmania has its own palliative care service, administered by the State Government. Initially only cancer patients sought help but the palliative care service now encompasses any terminal illness. Services are provided to most Tasmanian hospitals. About half those dying in Tasmania will have some contact, often only briefly, with a palliative care service doctor or nurse. However, services are stretched and the need is great.

The Assisted Suicide Bill (Voluntary Assisted Dying or End of Life Choices Bill) before Tasmania’s Parliament, proposes the ‘treatment’ of assisted suicide for the fear of pain and suffering at the end of life. This may sound similar to palliative care but the underlying principles are vastly different. Palliative care seeks to address and ease any underlying pain and distress, fully respecting the value of a person’s life. It does not just propose a lethal treatment to shorten a person’s life, signalling that that person’s life no longer has value. 

Pain can be controlled. If the reasons for suffering and distress are understood they can be relieved. A good death can be enabled, and this leads to a better bereavement for families.

Many people want more say in what happens at the end of their life and there is a well-established way to do this.  They can complete an Advanced Care Plan, outlining their philosophical views, preferences for treatment or no treatment, place of care, persons able to visit or anything else of concern. These wishes will be respected by medical professionals all around Tasmania and will be incorporated into medical decision-making if needed.

In order for Tasmanians to live and die well it is important that we have well-funded, properly resourced palliative care services and good palliative care education for our health care professionals and for the community.

For more information on palliative care, go to www.caresearch.com.au

For more information on Advanced Care Planning, go to www.advancecareplanning.org.au