Warner: Let's talk about end-of-life care

March 6, 2009 at 3:54 PM

WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., wants a national discussion on how to deal with medical care at the end of life as part of an effort to cut costs.

In a speech to hospital executives this week, Warner said that families and patients might choose to avoid expensive treatment, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

"We leave it to families to resolve these extraordinarily difficult decisions with little guidance," Warner said. "Other industrialized nations have dealt with the end-of-life issue. It's time we did as well."

Studies have found that more than 25 percent of Medicare spending and 10 to 12 percent of all medical spending in the United States goes to last-ditch treatment for the terminally ill. In most cases, the treatment does little for the patient, research indicates.

Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Virginian-Pilot that end-of-life care is a "very volatile intersection" in the debate on reforming healthcare.

Warner, in his speech, acknowledged that the issue "makes us all uncomfortable." He said he didn't advocate cutting off treatment when patients want it and have thought through the decision.

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