Assumptions And Principles Underlying Standards For Care of The Terminally Ill


There is agreement that patients with life-threatening illnesses, including
progressive malignancies, need appropriate therapy and treatment throughout the
course of illness. At one stage, therapy is directed toward assessment and
intervention in order to control and/or to cure such illness and alleviate
associated symptoms. For some persons, however, the time comes when cure and
remission are beyond current medical expertise. It is then that the intervention
must shift to what is now often termed "palliative treatment," which is designed
to control pain in the broadest sense and provide personal support for patients
and family during the terminal phase of illness. In general, palliative care
requires limited use of apparatus and technology, extensive personal care, and
an ordering of the physical and social environment to be therapeutic in itself.

There are, as it were, two complementary systems of treatment which may often
overlap: One system is concerned with eliminating a curable disease and the
other with relieving the symptoms resulting from the relentless progress of an
incurable illness. There must be openness, interchange, and overlap between the
two systems so that the patient receives continuous appropriate care. The
patient should not be subjected to aggressive treatment that offers no hope of
being effective in curing or controlling the disease and may only cause further
distress. Obviously, the clinician must be on the alert for any shifts that may
occur in the course of a terminal illness, which make the patient again a
candidate for active treatment.

Patients suffer not only from inappropriate active care, but also from inept
terminal care. This is well documented by studies that only confirm what dying
patients and their families know at first hand.

These principles have been prepared as an aid to those who have initiated or are
planning programs for the terminally ill in delineating standards of care.


The care of the dying is a process involving needs of the patient, family, and
caregivers. The interaction of these three groups of individuals must constantly
be assessed with the aim being the best possible care of the patient. This
cannot be accomplished, however, if the needs of the family and/or caregiver are
negated. 2. The problems of the patient-family facing terminal illness include a
wide variety of issues: psychological, legal, social, spiritual, economic, and
interpersonal. Care requires collaboration of many disciplines working as an
integrated clinical team, meeting for frequent discussions, and with commonness
of purpose. 3. Dying tends to produce a feeling of isolation. All that
counteracts unwanted isolation should be encouraged; social events and shared
work, inclusive of all involved, should be arranged so that meaningful relations
can be sustained and developed. 4. It has been the tradition to train
caregivers not to become emotionally involved, but in terminal illness the
patient and family need to experience the personal concern of those taking care
of them. Profound involvement without loss of objectivity should be allowed and
fostered, realizing this may present certain risks to the caregiver. 5. Health
care services customarily lack coordination. The organization structure must
provide links with existing health care professionals in the community. 6. A
supportive physical environment contributes to the sense of well being of
patients, of family, and of caregivers. The environment should provide adequate
space, furnishings that put people at ease, the reassuring presence of personal
belongings, and symbols of life cycles.


There are patients for whom aggressive curative treatment becomes increasingly
inappropriate These patients need highly competent professionals, skilled in
terminal care.8. The symptoms of terminal disease can be controlled. The patient
should be kept as symptom free as possible. Pain in all its aspects should be
controlled. The patient must remain alert and comfortable. 9. Patients\' needs
may change over time. Staff must recognize that other services may have to be
involved, but that continuity of care should be provided. 10. Care is most
effective when the patient\'s lifestyle is maintained and life philosophy
respected. The terminally ill patient\'s own framework of values, preferences,
and life outlook must be taken into account in planning and conducting treatment.
11. Patients are often treated as if incapable of understanding or of making
decisions. Patients\' wishes for information about their condition should be
respected. They should be allowed full participation in their care and a
continuing sense
of self-determination and self-control. 12. Dying patients often suffer through
helplessness, weakness, isolation, and loneliness. The patient should have a
sense of security and protection. Involvement of family and friends should be
encouraged. 13. The varied problems and anxieties associated with terminal
illness can occur at any time of day