An op-ed by Dr. Brittany Bettendorf recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Honestly, if the heading wasn't "Wall Street Journal," I'd think it was "The Onion." Written by a physician, it laments the despicable way in which one of her patients passed. The woman was apparently without family or friend to act as her advocate. She was what is now known as in our society as "friendless," "unbefriended" or an "elder orphan." In spite of her angst over this woman's extended suffering at the hands of the Wisconsin state-run nursing home and the Milwaukee hospital attending to her, the doctor chooses to focus on the patient's failure to have the foresight to have advance directives. That's why the medical professionals around her didn't know what to do, how to order the necessary medical tests or how to relieve pain.
Apparently, this physician has no knowledge of Wisconsin law providing for an emergency substitute decision maker, the existence of a hospital ethics committee (or maybe there isn't one), her ethical duties as a physician to act in the best interest of the patient--regardless of the presence of written advance directives--or a basic humane duty to provide palliative care.
Of course I would agree that each one of us has the responsibility to create effective advance directives, but the failure to do so is not an excuse for the health care system to ignore basic human decency or its own ethical directives in caring for its patients. Shameful. Let's hope someone in the legal department of that hospital has had a little talk with Dr. Brittany and explained how the whole physician/patient relationship thing works.
"The Unforgettable Death of My forgotten Patient" - Wall Street Journal