American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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ACP to study end-of-life care

From the February 1997 ACP Observer, copyright 1997 by the American College of Physicians.

As the U.S. Supreme Court this winter grapples with the divisive question of whether to legalize the practice of physician-assisted suicide, ACP is turning its attention to the related issue of end-of-life care.

The College's Board of Regents last month commissioned a paper that would spell out guidelines to improve physicians' care of patients at the end of life. ACP has also joined a coalition of 40 medical societies and patients' organizations that has laid out 10 principles to guide high-quality care at the end of life. If dying Americans could count on care that is "reliable, continuous, comprehensive and effective," the coalition contends that the call for physician-assisted suicide would be irrelevant.

The coalition, led by the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), recommends that care for terminally ill patients must, among other things, better control pain, promote advance care planning, give patients and family members more of a say in the decision-making process, encourage provider continuity and limit high-tech medical interventions when the patient is near death.

"We have a need to develop, deliver and pay for health care that not only eliminates needless suffering but imparts comfort and dignity to the dying," said ACP President Christine K. Cassel, FACP, in supporting the AGS principles.

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