Don't encourage patients' requests to feed unhealthy habits

Being empathetic to a terminally ill patient's wishes can be a double-edged sword (Beer, durian, cigarettes? All fine for the terminally ill; May 15).

It is seemingly all right to give in to dying patients' wishes for cigarettes and alcoholic drinks, given that their days are numbered.

But, on second thought, it is morally wrong.

If a patient is dying of lung cancer or a liver ailment, it is unthinkable for a caregiver to accede to his request for tobacco or alcoholic drinks, which are associated with the two diseases.

I agree that rules and guidelines in medical institutions can be tweaked to allow a patient some liberty, but accommodating his desire for things that are unconventional in a hospital or hospice setting should be discouraged.

We must not harbour the mindset that a person's requests should be acceded to just because he is going to die.

It reminds me of a doctor who once related to a group of friends about an 80-year-old patient who lived a healthy life - exercising regularly, maintaining a balanced diet and abstaining from alcoholic drinks. His only weakness was his smoking habit.

While the doctor felt that there was nothing wrong for his patient to indulge in such an unhealthy habit, because of the latter's twilight years, I did not support it.

I may appear to be lacking empathy, but I believe acceding to requests for unhealthy food and drinks may send the wrong signal to others that things like tobacco and alcohol are less harmful.

Jeffrey Law Lee Beng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2017, with the headline 'Don't encourage patients' requests to feed unhealthy habits'. Print Edition | Subscribe