Physician Orders to Supplement Advance Directives: Rescuing Patient Autonomy
Miller, Ronald B.
Journal of Clinical Ethics 2009 Fall; 20(3): 212-219
To adapt Churchill's comment on democracy, "No one pretends that [POLSTs are] perfect..." but physicians' orders about life-sustaining treatments are a very important supplement to advance directives, especially for patients who are extremely or terminally ill, and most particularly for patients who require emergency treatment by first responders or by physicians who do not know them as persons. The standardized orders of limited options, however, are no substitute for a detailed treatment directive of a patient with a known illness, with predictable trajectories and complications. And, in this latter circumstance, a thoroughly informed proxy may also assist physicians in selecting appropriate treatment for patients who have lost decisional capacity and/or the ability to express it. I believe all patients should have an advance directive, preferably a combined proxy-treatment directive, and preferably one that has been thoroughly discussed with the attending physician and with the proxy, successor proxies, and preferably relatives and friends. Nurses, social workers, and chaplains may be very helpful to the patient in thinking through his or her preferences, especially if the severity of illness and the limited efficacy of interventions are such that the patient would wish to omit life-sustaining treatment or to discontinue it after a time-limited trial. Finally, because POLST is new or yet to be initiated in many areas of the country, it behooves all physicians to become knowledgeable of POLST and to initiate discussion of it with colleagues, patients, patients' proxies, and with relatives of patients. Even more recent is the combined advance directive/physician's orders to permit natural dying, actionable immediately for patients suffering severely and irremediably, but actionable at a future time if the patient progresses to advanced stages of dementia or other devastating brain disorders. In order to encourage physicians to initiate advance care planning with their patients, this quote from a patient shortly before his death from prostatic cancer might prove helpful: "Not every patient can be saved, but his illness can be eased by the way that the doctor responds to him. In learning to talk to his patients, the doctor may talk himself back into loving his work. He has little to lose and everything to gain by letting the sick man into his heart. If he does, they can share--as few others can--the wonder, terror, and exultation of being on the edge of being"
Showing items related by title, author, creator and subject.