Tim Bowen: Countering Kevorkians's philosophy

Published: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Many people are uncomfortable thinking about or discussing care at the end of life. As the executive director of a hospice, I face these challenges every day.

My colleagues and I see the incredible benefits that hospice care provides patients, their family and caregivers who are on the journey at life's end. Dr. Jack Kevorkian's upcoming speech at the University of Florida certainly brings attention to the way society provides individuals with care at the end of life.

While Kevorkian has helped draw national attention to end-of-life issues, it is important to remember that there are other perspectives.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and its member hospices such as Haven Hospice do not support Kevorkian's practices or the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. Experienced hospice and palliative care providers are effective at addressing the issues that concern Americans regarding end-of-life care and life-limiting illness.

Hospice care provides its services through the use of an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, nurse's aides, social workers, chaplains and volunteers. The focus is not on curing, but on caring; living life to its fullest. Hospice care helps patients live as fully as possible, not hasten any death.

Hospice care offers pain and symptom control as well as spiritual and emotional care for patients, families and caregivers. Hospice care is about having choices; you have the right to choose quality of life until the very end of your life. Every year, thousands of hospice programs across the nation help more than one million Americans facing the end of life.

A recent study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that patients in hospice care live longer on average than patients with similar conditions not receiving hospice care. This study contradicted an intuitive belief that entering hospice care sooner will hasten death. Some people think that joining a hospice program means giving up, but that is far from the case. Hospice care can actually extend the quality of life of patients and their families.

Haven Hospice has helped many patients and families discover very special moments - moments that might have been missed completely had people followed the practices of Kevorkian.

Hospice patients and families often find joy at unexpected times. Often it is something very simple that makes such a big difference. One patient, an avid horse lover, wanted to pet a horse one last time. Through the efforts of staff, volunteers and family, a horse was brought to the E.T. York Hospice Care Center where she was able to spend time petting and feeding it just outside the care center.

Several patients have gotten married while in our care, and just recently, Haven Hospice cared for a couple who had been married for 58 years. They were both residents at our Suwannee Valley Hospice Care Center. They were able to stay in the same room together and fulfill their last wish of being parted only by death, which was just one day apart.

These moments, often shared with family and friends, brought joy and precious memories at a time when they were not expected.

Hospice care allows people to be at home or in a homelike atmosphere where they are most comfortable. Hospice care honors the wishes of the patient and family and provides dignity and compassion when they are needed most.

Haven Hospice encourages all people to learn more about the choices available to them. It is our belief that no one should be alone at the end of life; no one should suffer at the end of life.

When listening to Kevorkian's message Tuesday night, keep in mind there is an alternative that allows care and compassion when needed most.

Tim Bowen is the executive director of Haven Hospice, which serves a 16-county area in North Florida. For more information, call (800) 727-1889 or visit www.havenhospice.org .

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