Q: My husband is seriously ill and the long-term prognosis is not very encouraging. The physician involved in his care has decided he is not a suitable candidate for surgery due to his age. My adult children disagree and believe their father will not live much longer without the surgery. They are also upset with me and feel I have not been a strong advocate for their father. I am overwhelmed and have no idea what they think I can do about all of this. Can you give me some direction?
A: It might be helpful to first define what an advocate is: “one that pleads the cause of another.” This is not a role everyone is comfortable with and that person should not be faulted with their personal inability to oppose or question the judgment of a health care provider. Since it appears your family has concerns about the future care of your husband it might be wise to look for another person to act as an advocate. In many hospitals there is a patient advocate on staff who could provide assistance or you could consider hiring an independent professional advocate (fees vary). Either of these individuals could become an objective spokesperson for the family.
Receiving a diagnosis of a serious or terminal illness can understandably leave the patient and family members feeling vulnerable, desperate or heart-broken. Denial and refusal to accept the diagnosis may follow. Physicians make decisions based on their professional training and experience. We rely on them to receive the best possible care available. This is not to say there are not occasions where we may feel justified in challenging their judgment. If after involving an advocate and gaining further understanding of your father’s condition and diagnosis the family continues to disagree about the course of treatment there are a couple of options to consider. It may be helpful to discuss the situation with your husband’s primary care physician and request a second opinion from another specialist. There may also be the option or requesting a review before a hospital board of inquiry.
Eventually the family is going to have to come to an agreement and accept what is in the best interest of your husband. If nothing else you will have the comfort of knowing you have done everything possible to make an informed decision.
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