The XX Factor

Take That, Death Panels!

Here’s an article from the Times about the impressive results of a study about end-of-life care for people with advanced lung cancer. It turns out palliative care-providing pain relief and other measures designed not to treat the disease but make the patient more comfortable-actually extended patients’ lives by three months. That’s about as much of an increase in survival as some of the hyper-expensive drugs, such as Avastin, provide to some patients with metastatic cancer.  Palliative care does not mean cutting off other treatment; it can be provided even as patients get chemotherapy, etc. But what was striking is that more of the patients assigned randomly to get the palliative care chose to stop aggressive treatment as their disease progressed, in contrast to those in the control group who were getting standard treatment. Yet on average the people in the palliative-care group lived longer.  Palliative care was a divisive part of the health care debate when it was falsely characterized as leading to “death panels.” Of course, part of the problem is a societywide inability to face that despite the most aggressive, most costly treatment, some diseases are terminal. But this study could lead to more discussion about the fact that sometimes simply making life more bearable for a patient with a deadly disease may be the best way to extend the time that is left.