Health Team

Researchers study benefits of 'end of life' conversations

Posted October 7, 2008 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2008 10:22 a.m. EDT

Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston recently examined the benefits of terminally ill patients having “end of life” conversations with their loved ones.

These types of conversations involve the kind of care patients want to receive in their final days.

The talks include questions such as “whether people want to be on breathing machines, whether they want to undergo a resuscitation if their heart would stop, whether they want to receive artificial nutrition or antibiotics,” Dr. Alexi Wrights, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said.

In the five-year study "Coping with Cancer," researchers studied more than 300 terminally ill cancer patients. They compared those that did have “end of life” discussions with those patients that had not.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the last week of life, patients who did have these conversations were three times less likely to be admitted for intensive care, four times less likely to be put on a breathing machine and six times less likely to be resuscitated, the study showed.

“Their quality of life was significantly better,” Wright said.

The study also found that patients' loved ones also benefited from those discussions.

Robyn Farrell lost her husband, Bob, to cancer last year. They had been married for 16 years and were the parents of three children.

Farrell said her husband’s last days were spent with family at home, not in a hospital. The decision was made after an “end of life” conversation.

“It was a very comfortable time. It was kind of like the way that it should be,” Farrell said.