End-of-life care requires a range of decisions, including questions of palliative care, medical experimentation, and the ethics and efficacy of extraordinary or hazardous medical interventions. In addition, end-of-life often touches upon rationing and the allocation of resources in hospitals and national medical systems. Such decisions are informed both by technical, medical considerations, economic factors as well as bioethics. In addition, end-of-life treatments are subject to considerations of patient autonomy.
According to the National Cancer Institute:
When a patient's health care team determines that the cancer can no longer be controlled, medical testing and cancer treatment often stop. But the patient's care continues. The care focuses on making the patient comfortable. The patient receives medications and treatments to control pain and other symptoms, such as constipation, nausea, and shortness of breath. Some patients remain at home during this time, while others enter a hospital or other facility. Either way, services are available to help patients and their families with the medical, psychological, and spiritual issues surrounding dying. A hospice often provides such services.
The time at the end of life is different for each person. Each individual has unique needs for information and support. The patient's and family's questions and concerns about the end of life should be discussed with the health care team as they arise.
The following information can help answer some of the questions that many patients, their family members, and caregivers have about the end of life.
How long is the patient expected to live?
Patients and their family members often want to know how long a person is expected to live. This is a hard question to answer. Factors such as where the cancer is located and whether the patient has other illnesses can affect what will happen. Although doctors may be able to make an estimate based on what they know about the patient, they might be hesitant to do so. Doctors may be concerned about over- or under-estimating the patient's life span. They also might be fearful of instilling false hope or destroying a person's hope.