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How Families Can Settle Treatment Disputes

Solving Treatment Disputes imageIt’s difficult to make healthcare decisions on behalf of someone you love when they are terminally ill. It’s even more difficult when family members disagree with your choices. Unfortunately, disagreements aren’t all that uncommon, and they can create great strife during an already stressful time.

To avoid such situations, it’s best to have your loved one enter hospice care when he or she is still able to make these end-of-life care decisions. But this isn’t always an option. In these cases, a counselor, a social worker, a chaplain or other hospice professional can help your family sort through the difficult decisions you’ll need to make.

He or she can help facilitate communication, whether it’s speaking on your behalf to a relative who’s at odds with the family over treatment or arranging for a family meeting where all members can make their feelings and opinions heard.

Deciding on Treatment

If you and your family are facing a dilemma over a loved one’s treatment, try these tips for making decisions and minimizing conflict:

  • Find out whether your loved one has an advance directive or a healthcare power of attorney. Advance directives outline the future medical care a patient wishes to receive in case he or she can’t communicate. A healthcare power of attorney is someone the patient picks to make medical decisions if he or she can’t communicate.
  • Discuss treatment risks and consequences with the physician. Sometimes a professional opinion can make a big difference in understanding how treatment may (or may not) help a loved one. A second opinion from a consulting doctor may be needed to convince some family members. Hospitals also have ethics committees that can be brought in to settle disputes.
  • Put yourself in the patient’s place. Go the route he or she would have wanted. Think about whether your loved one has ever expressed opinions about the way someone else’s medical treatment was handled or mentioned that he or she wouldn’t want a specific treatment.
  • Consider the patient’s best interests. Surgery for cancer may help extend life, but what quality of life would the patient have? What if your loved one also had another life-limiting illness, such as Alzheimer’s, and couldn’t recognize loved ones or seemed to be suffering in general? Would he or she want to extend life?
  • Bring in an outsider. Sometimes, despite best efforts, family members just can’t agree on treatment. In these cases, you may want to hire a mediator. These people have the special training and experience to handle such situations. To find a mediator, contact the Association for Conflict Resolution at (703) 234-4141 or visit www.acrnet.org.
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