New State Law Gives Patients Access To Information On End-Of-Life Care
The New York Palliative Care Information Act, a controversial state law that goes into effect next month, puts the responsibility on doctors and nurses to provide patients with information on end-of-life care. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.
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Only 36 years old, Lisa Ellison has already discussed end-of-life options. She was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia at six months of age and has been in and out of hospitals since childhood.
"When I was five years old, that's when the pain really started," says Ellison. "I had my first surgery which was my splenectomy, where they removed my spleen."
In 2006, after years of chronic pain, Ellison decided to seek palliative care at Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem to better manage her pain and symptoms.
Palliative care is a philosophy that involves a team of specialists, which may include clinicians, social workers and spiritual advisers to provide a holistic approach to patients with life threatening illnesses
"It encompasses medical care that addresses pain and symptoms of distress with a complicated advanced medical illness and it addresses choice. How that patient wants to die, how that patient wants to live before they die," says Dr. Lauren Shaiova, the chief of Metropolitan Hospital Center's Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care.
Ellison has not entered the terminal stage of her illness but she is aware it could happen at a moment's notice. She inquired about palliative care on her own, but starting on February 9, the New York Palliative Care Information Act will put the responsibility on doctors and nurses.
Judith Schwarz is with the national nonprofit, end-of-life advocacy and support group Compassion & Choices that developed the legislation.
"It now affirms a physician's duty or the nurse practitioner to offer to provide information to terminally ill patients about palliative and hospice care, about any information that is appropriate to that patient at a time that is appropriate for that patient," says Schwarz. "Paying attention to the particular circumstances, emotionally, clinically and socially for that patient."
Patients can, however, opt out of having that conversation. As for clinicians who may not be comfortable discussing end-of-life options with their patients, they can defer to another specialist.
Either way, supporters of the law say now all patients diagnosed with a terminal illness will have all the information needed to make more informed choices about their end-of-life care.