Last Acts Coalition Works to Provide Better End-of-Life Medical Care

NEW YORK, -- March 1999 -- Public attention needs to focus more on caring for patients at the end of life, rather than providing physician-assisted suicide, according to the Last Acts Coalition, a 315-member group chaired by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

A statement from the Coalition notes that Jack Kevorkian will go on trial Monday, charged with homicide for assisting a terminally ill, incapacitated man to die using a lethal combination of drugs.

The Last Acts Coalition, which includes the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and many other healthcare, bioethics, religious and consumer groups, issued a "blueprint for end-of life care" this week.

The five-part plan is designed to ensure that the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of dying patients are met, with an emphasis on the provision of palliative, or pain relief, care.

"We believe the Kevorkian debate raises important questions but leads to the wrong answers. The debate addresses people's many fears about terminal illness, especially their fears that the healthcare system will not respond to their pain and suffering," said Dr. Ira Byock, author of Dying Well and a member of the Last Acts Coalition. "As long as there is life, we can treat people with medically excellent care, but also tender loving care."

Last Acts promotes a five-point plan to care for the terminally ill. The group encourages caregivers to respect the medical, emotional, social and spiritual needs and choices of the dying person. Family members of the dying patients also need support, and Last Acts supports helping them gain access to healthcare providers and appropriate care settings.

Overall, Americans need "more information about options at the end of life," according to the Coalition.

A survey conducted this month shows that 65% of people in the US believe that the national priority should be improving end-of-life care for the terminally ill, while 35% favored physician-assisted suicide.

About half of those surveyed believe that healthcare professionals provide "only fair" or a "poor" pain relief for the terminally ill, and fewer than half believe that the family is properly included in end-of-life decisions, according to the survey of 1,000 Americans released by the Last Acts Coalition at a briefing to announce their blueprint.

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