Death & Dying Fellowship Concludes With Post-Gazette Feature Story

Dr. Bob Arnold, chief of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh, addresses the Fellows.

The 2019 Death & Dying Fellowship concluded on April 1 with the fellows practicing their skills in conducting end-of-life conversations, after receiving guidance from guest speaker Dr. Bob Arnold, chief of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh, and medical director of the UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute. Post-Gazette staff writer Gary Rotstein, who writes regularly on aging, was also in attendance. His Sunday April 21 PG article, "Health Care Fellows Learn the Tough Task of Discussing Death and Dying," summarized the fellowship and the Foundation's motivation for working in this field.

JHF President Karen Wolk Feinstein, PhD, reminded the fellows that their charge is to "challenge existing systems from the inside out.This fellowship, together with our Closure Initiative and focus on palliative care and Changing Expectations for Care at End of Life, is a perfect place for that activism."

As described in Mr. Rotstein's article, Dr. Arnold told the fellows that "patients are fearful about the end of their lives and doctors lack incentives to discuss it. 'We collude not to talk about it,' he said," while urging the fellows "to make end-of-life care part of their professional 'identity.' Their knowledge, if shared properly, can assist patients in weighing the merits of more procedures versus more comfort."

Fellows Abhishek Chaturvedi, MD, Patrick Ebbert, and Michael Roth practice end-of-life conversations with Dr. Leslie Scheunemann, Hospice Director for Sivitz Hospice at the Jewish Association on Aging.

To help the fellows practice the end-of-life conversations, a dozen facilitators were on hand for the rotating sessions. They included Judith Black, MD, a JHF consultant; Eric Horwith, MSW, a vice president at Family Hospice & Palliative Care; and JHF Trustee Theresa Brown, PhD, RN. Dr. Brown, a hospice nurse, is the author of two books about health care and a regular contributor to The New York Times.

Her April 28 op-ed in the Times, "How to Make Doctors Think About Death," called for end-of-life treatment guidelines to help families, physicians and nurses confront the inevitable. "Our society makes admissions of medical futility in the face of human frailty harder by equating 'cure' with 'fighting back' and 'comfort' with 'giving up,'" she wrote. "A set of guidelines won't change that. But it would help nurses and doctors acknowledge when cure is impossible, and comfort is the most compassionate, ethical route."

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