End-of-life discussions must go beyond medical preferences

Advance Care Planning (ACP) is the voluntary discussion on future care preferences between an individual with his family and healthcare providers (End-of-life care - Important to know your loved ones' wishes, by Mr Francis Cheng; May 30).

ACP has its merits.

However, if the discussion is focused only on medical treatment preferences, without a deeper conversation about the person's life and relationships, including spiritual and existential concerns, the individual's wishes often may not be achieved.

In addition, healthcare workers may miss the opportunity to fully understand the person.

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A national survey on death attitudes in April 2014 revealed that 77 per cent of Singaporeans wish to die at home.

Singapore Cancer Society Hospice Care, the first hospice home care service in Singapore, has journeyed with cancer patients and their loved ones since 1987.

Our hospice care doctors, nurses and multidisciplinary team of social workers, counsellors and therapists, who are trained in palliative care, provide holistic and comprehensive care to patients with advanced stage cancers (referred by doctors) and their families in their own homes.

Palliative care seeks to support the patient (and caregivers) at home not only in managing physical symptoms, but also in adding life to their days by addressing psychosocial and spiritual concerns.

Because each patient and family is different, our team facilitates in planning for the future needs of patients often by discussing their ideas on living well, and guiding them in navigating the healthcare system in order to make better decisions near the end of life.

Although these are difficult conversations to have, the decisions that follow often bring stability and assurance to patients.

Ong Yew Jin (Dr)

Medical Director

Singapore Cancer Society

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'End-of-life discussions must go beyond medical preferences'. Print Edition | Subscribe