The moral responsibility for improving access to hospice care is has its many roles for hospice care. Here are a few roles to consider when it comes to hospice care:
Individuals and Hospice Care
Unfeeling though it may sound, individuals have a moral responsibility to face the prospect of their own deaths. There are psychological and cultural difficulties with upholding this responsibility. But the costs and consequences of a widespread failure to do so are too high. Facing one’s impending death in a realistic and mature way enables a person to engage in advance hospice care and health care planning, thereby reducing the uncertainty and the anxiety of family and loved ones. And doing so may lead more persons with critical and terminal illness to prompt their physicians—to give them moral permission, so to speak, to refer them to hospice care programs when appropriate. Patients wait for physicians to bring it up, physicians wait for patients; someone must break this vicious cycle. Individuals also have a responsibility, as consumers of health care and as citizens, to support societal efforts to create a just end of life hospice care system (and a just health care system as whole). Research suggests that Americans agree in principle that they ought to do this; however, the same research indicates that people are uncomfortable thinking about death and therefore find it difficult to live up to this responsibility.
Families and Hospice Care
Research suggests that Americans recognize a moral obligation to care for family members who are dying, and most would like to fulfill this obligation. Given the changing structure of American families and changes in women’s labor force participation, fulfilling this obligation is already difficult for some families; if current demographic and social trends continue, the difficulty is likely to worsen. When the dying process is prolonged, when the patient has a condition (such as Alzheimer’s dis-ease) that requires an exceptional level of care, when the available caregivers
have other significant demands on their time and energy (such as young children or a demanding yet financially necessary job), and when financial resources are very limited—the family may be overwhelmed. A major goal of hospice care is to provide the support each family needs in order to
provide care to the dying person without suffering serious adverse consequences themselves—without, that is to say, undue or excessive burden.
Organized Religion and Hospice Care
Religious groups have always been sources of support for the dying and their families. Religion plays a major role in society’s attitudes toward death and dying along with hospice care, and the work of the professional clergy and organized religious communities help terminally ill individuals with spiritual support and caregiving assistance. Given these traditional functions of churches and religious denominations, it is somewhat surprising that more attention is not paid to end of life care issues in the professional training of clergy and that more congregations do not feature educational programs to make fellow congregants aware of the planning they need to undertake, or the resources they need available, when faced with a serious illness. Clergy must become more knowledgeable about hospice care in the years ahead, and the churches of America should be tapped as a resource for reaching large numbers of people with educational programs about hospice care and about end of life care generally.
Physicians and Hospice Care
Since antiquity, the profession of medicine has acknowledged the special moral obligation that makes medicine a profession, not simply an occupation: the obligation to do what is best for patients. To fulfill this obligation, physicians must do more than offer a routine set of services to all patients or passively provide whatever a particular patient asks for. Rather, the physician must actively help patients discover what is best for them. Physicians have a moral obligation to make hospice care part of this process so that patients can make informed decisions about the role these services should play in their care. The physician’s obligation to the individual patient generates a related obligation at the level of the profession. Physicians as a group exercise great influence on the content of medical practice through their control over medical education, entry into the profession, and peer review of physician performance. If there is widespread dissatisfaction with end of life care, physicians have a responsibility to cooperate with one another to make the available care more responsive to patients’ values and preferences.
As you can see hospice care has many roles and it is important for people to receive hospice care services as soon as possible to ensure a smoother transition.