Editorial Extols Palliative Care as a Way to Help Patients and Families

Editorial Extols Palliative Care as a Way to Help Patients and Families
Many Americans face important palliative health care decisions.iStock

Palliative care can reduce pain and anxiety for patients and their families.

On Jan. 19, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an important editorial by Dr. Atul Gawande, a Boston surgeon and author of the best-selling book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Gawande corrects the misperception that palliative care—management of a patient’s physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs—and advance care planning amount to “giving up” near the end of life. He writes that palliative care is instead “dedicated to assisting seriously ill people with setting and achieving goals aside from just survival, which may include control of symptoms, attending to life projects, connecting with loved ones, or other vital objectives.”

If we are to improve care for seriously ill people and those near the end of life, we need to consider shifting our focus from treating disease to offering palliative care, for those who may choose this option, to reduce pain and anxiety for patients and their families. As Gawande notes, most people want medicine to allow “as good a life as possible all the way to the very end.” Palliative services—sometimes referred to as comfort care—can be the best way to ensure that individuals receive the type of care they want in order to live, and die, as they choose.

Pew’s improving end-of-life care project is committed to advancing policies that will help people make informed decisions. Along with experts, clinicians, and policymakers, we are working to learn about innovative models of care, increase access to advanced care plans, establish metrics that track the success and quality of end-of-life treatment, and help health care consumers understand their choices. We are encouraging the federal government to research the benefits of palliative care to foster quality treatment centered on patients’ needs and desires. When it comes to end-of-life care, as Gawande writes, “the vital goal almost all people want from medicine is not having a good death but having as good a life as possible all the way to the very end.”

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.