A reflection on voluntary assisted dying and conscientious objection

Dying sculture

[Image by rmac8oppo from pixabay]

[The following essay by Dr Adrian Dabscheck, an experienced palliative care physician in Melbourne, explores the evolution of our society’s views towards death and reflects on the role of palliative care and voluntary assisted dying in this context – Chi]

During a recent period of enforced rest, I had time to reflect on my attitude to the recently enacted voluntary assisted dying legislation in Victoria and consider my response.I will detail my reaction to the Act and why I have chosen to become a so-called conscientious objector.

In his essay Western Attitudes Toward Death,French historian Philippe Ariès illustrates the evolution of our attitudes to death.

Initially, and for millennia, there had been a general resignation to the destiny of our species for which he used the phrase, Et moriemur, and we shall all die. This was replaced in the twelfth century by the more modern concept of the importance of one’s self, and he used the phrase, la mort de soi, one’s own death.  Continue reading

What matters most? #NPCW18

 

National Palliative Care Week 2018 is just around the corner. This year, we are asking Australians what matters most – to them, to their family & friends, and to their communities?  Continue reading

#COSA17: #PalliativeCare reflections on the 44th Clinical Oncology Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting

Circular Quay

Despite being a Melburnian, I must admit that Sydney really is an irresistibly beautiful city when the sun comes out, especially by the water. The 44th Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) Annual Scientific Meeting was held in the newly renovated International Convention Centre in Sydney between 12-15th November 2017. With the sunlight streaming in through its many windows, reflecting off the waters of Darling Harbour, it really was the perfect place to be at the beginning of summer.

I attended the pre-conference workshop on cancer supportive care, which was organised by Judith Lacey, a palliative medicine specialist at Chris O’Brien LIfehouse. The whole-day workshop featured an interesting mixture of passionate speakers promoting a range of complementary treatments including medicinal cannabis, massage and probiotics; alongside others examining the evidence base for acupuncture, reviewing current clinical trials and prescribing pathways, and comparing different funding models for supportive care. It was a long but worthwhile day that set the mood for the rest of the conference.  Continue reading

An open letter to Victorians on #PalliativeCare #VAD #euthanasia

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PC clinician open letter Final

Stop the horror(ible misrepresentation)

This short film released this week tells an awful story of a man and his family that is apparently based on true events. It is clear from the film that the man did NOT receive the best palliative care currently available.

The film concludes with a statement that people like the man depicted die in awful ways “[d]espite the best available palliative care”. This statement is at odds with the film, which depicts him NOT receiving “the best available palliative care”.

Why did the poor man NOT receive “the best available palliative care”? The film does not tell us why. The statement at the conclusion of the film does not tell us why. We are left to wonder why this poor man and his family did NOT receive “the best available palliative care” for their suffering.

This film is a powerful depiction of the suffering experienced by patients and their families when they do NOT receive “the best available palliative care”. This film about suffering and suboptimal palliative care should lead us to demand better access to “the best available palliative care” from our politicians.

You can watch the R-rated (suitable for persons aged 18 years and over) film here.

#CrazySocks4Docs on June 1st

 

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Crazy Socks for Docs – by Dr Eric Levi @DrEricLevi

June 1st. #CrazySocks4Docs. But not just for Docs only. This day is for nurses, dentists, pharmacists, social workers, physiotherapists, psychologists, dietitians, speech pathologists, audiologists, respiratory therapists, anaesthesia techs, paramedics, medical students, veterinarians and all other specialties that work in the health care industry for patients. Continue reading

Delirium update at #ANZSPM17 Update

delirium @#ANZSPM17

We think delirium is a pretty big deal here at Palliverse, having devoted quite a few blog posts over the years to discussing this important issue in palliative care.

Well, delirium will be the focus of the first session at the upcoming 4th Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine (ANZSPM) Medical & Surgical Update for Palliative Medicine (#ANZSPM17), which will be held between June 23-24th at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.

Chaired by @Meera_Agar – the lead author of the seminal paper examining the role of antipsychotics in the management of delirium symptoms in the palliative care setting, which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine earlier this year – the session will feature presentations from Professor Agar, as well as:

  • Dr Simon Allan, palliative care physician, Director of Palliative Care at Arohanui Hospice in New Zealand and the current President of the Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians,
  • Dr Chris Moran, geriatrician from Alfred Health and research fellow at Monash University, and
  • Dr Justin Dwyer, psychiatrist and Medical Director of the Psychosocial Cancer Care service at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne.

After the presentations, a panel discussion involving the speakers will offer the audience plenty of opportunities to further explore this hot topic in palliative care.

Of course, delirium is just one of the many great topics that will be examined in detail during the fourth iteration of this biennial meeting. To find out more about the #ANZSPM17 Update, and to take advantage of the early bird registration rate until May 24th, go to: https://willorganise.eventsair.com/QuickEventWebsitePortal/2017-anzspm-update/update

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Advance care directives, palliative care, and euthanasia

respect

[Image by Nick Youngson]

Why do palliative care people bang on about advance care planning all the time?

Well, when you break it all down, advance care planning is all about respect. Respecting the values, goals and preferences of the person making the plan. And palliative care is really big on respecting people’s preferences and values, especially when it comes to their end-of-life care.

Unfortunately, when it comes to respecting people’s choices around their health care, the law has been lagging behind. Existing laws around advance care plans and medical decision making are often confusing for patients and families, as well as their treating clinicians. Fortunately, this is all about to change in Victoria.  Continue reading

Palliative care and quality of life

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The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The goal of health care is therefore not just to treat disease and extend quantity of life, but to also promote overall wellbeing and enhance quality of life.

But what exactly is quality of life?

According to the WHO, quality of life is “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns”. It is affected by their “physical health, psychological state, personal beliefs, social relationships and their relationship to salient features of their environment”.

A bit of a mouthful for sure. But the bottom line here is that while a person’s quality of life is affected by their health, it is about more than just their health. A person’s quality of life depends on what is important to them, where they have come from, and where they are going. In other words: what constitutes quality of life for an individual is defined by who they are.

What does all of this have to do with palliative care?

Palliative care is all about quality of life. Back to the WHO: “Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness”.

For many people, quality of life is just as important as quantity of life. For some, quality is more important quantity – particularly if their quantity of life is limited by incurable and/or life-threatening illnesses.

How does palliative care improve a person’s quality of life? The WHO definition suggests that it does so “through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”

However, the prevention and relief of suffering is merely the opening gambit of the palliative care approach. Alleviating suffering is a prerequisite to improving quality of life, but it is not sufficient on its own. In order to help patients and families live as well as possible, palliative care must also promote psychological, social and spiritual wellbeing.

This is only possible if palliative care clinicians are more than symptomologists or scientists-technicians. They must also be brave witnesses and loyal companions. “Don’t just do something, stand there.” And listen, with our hearts as well as our brains, as fellow human beings, sharing the human condition, travelling together along the journey of life.

To summarise: palliative care starts by seeking to find out what is the cause of a person’s suffering, but goes beyond this by striving to know who is the person suffering, in order to ultimately discover how to improve their quality of life, and help them to live as well as possible.

Journal club on delirium #hpmjc

hpmjc

Delirium is a syndrome associated with a sudden change in a person’s mental function that interferes with their thinking and awareness. It is a common problem that confronts many patients, families and clinicians in the palliative care setting. Delirium usually develops as a result of a serious medical condition, which can often be found and treated. However, the symptoms of delirium – such as fluctuating confusion, reduced attention, disturbed sleep-wake cycle, and/or hallucinations – can be very distressing for everyone involved, and may persist for many days to weeks.

Medications – including antipsychotics such as haloperidol and risperidone – are often used to manage the symptoms of delirium. But do they actually work?

To answer this question, Professor Meera Agar (@meera_agar) and colleagues from the Palliative Care Clinical Studies Collaborative (PaCCSC) conducted a study examining the use of these medications. The results of their research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine recently, and also discussed on various media platforms (examples here, here and here).

Please join Hospice and Palliative Medicine Journal Club (#hpmjc) in January 2017 for an in-depth discussion about this important study. The journal club will be hosted by Chi Li (@Dr_Chi_Li) from Palliverse and feature the paper’s first author, Meera Agar (@meera_agar)!

When? The hour-long online journal club will start at (please note the different dates):

  • Auckland: 9am, Tuesday 24th January
  • Sydney: 7am, Tuesday 24th January
  • London: 8pm, Monday 23rd January
  • New York / Toronto: 3pm, Monday 23rd January
  • Other cities

Who? Anyone and everyone who has:

  • Experienced delirium themselves
  • Cared for or lived with someone with delirium
  • An interest in improving the treatment of delirium
  • An interest in enhancing palliative care

How? It’s easy!

What? We will be discussing the following topics during the journal club

  • Topic 1: Why was the study conducted? Are the study questions / aims relevant to you and/or your work?
  • Topic 2: How was the study conducted? What did you like about the study methodology? Would you have done anything differently?
  • Topic 3: What were the main findings from the study? Were you surprised by any of the study results?
  • Topic 4: Has this study changed the way you think about delirium in the palliative care setting? Why and why not? What’s next?

If you would like more information, or are having trouble accessing the paper, please feel free to contact us via Twitter (@Dr_Chi_Li or @palliverse) or by email (chi.li.australia@gmail.com or palliverse@gmail.com).

We hope you can join us for a great discussion about this important study!