Empathy – to try to imagine what another person feels like, to put yourself in their shoes, and to try to see things from their point of view.
Compassion – To identify another person’s suffering and to want to do something about it.
Autonomy – The right to make your own choices for yourself.
After years of training and more years of clinical practice, I try my best to practise medicine in a compassionate manner. I try to find out who they are, what drives them as a person, how I can help them in the way they want to be helped.
I try to do my best to inform them of their options, of what I think lies ahead for them. I try my best to take as much stress out of their individual and familial situations. I draw upon my years of experience and up-to-date knowledge. I am not afraid of showing that I care for them and I really want to help them out.
On occasion, they will reject my best-laid plans. They will resist my best attempts to sell them my product. They will not want what I have to offer. This is especially difficult when I am sure that my management will likely make them more comfortable, that it will probably lead to alleviation of suffering.
Inside me a voice starts to talk – “What do you mean no? You can’t be thinking straight. I’m pretty sure I can make you more comfortable. Can you give it at least a try? I just want you to try something which I think has a good chance of helping you.”
Get out of the way son….
It is hard when someone chooses a path that will lead to more suffering, but it is their choice to make. Their right to do what they want at the end of their life. Just as it has been their right to choose what happened during the rest of their life, why does that have to change because they are dying?
It is hard to bear witness to someone else’s suffering when they don’t want to take the treatments we have to offer. I promise people that I will listen to what they want or don’t want and will be guided by them. I have to keep my promise. They have to do what is right for them and their family.
As health care practitioners we are only involved for a brief period of time. Our patients and their families have to live with the decisions they make for the rest of their lives. Generations of a family can be affected by the choices made. They have to do the right thing for themselves and we need to give them the opportunity to do so.