The death last week of 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless at a Bakersfield retirement home helped sparked a nationwide controversy over practices at nursing homes and other senior living facilities.
Bayless died after a nurse refused to resuscitate her, citing company policy, despite the pleas of a 911 dispatcher.
But the incident also brought greater attention to the issues of medical ethics and end-of-life care.
Earlier today Valley Public Radio host Juanita Stevenson talked with Christopher Meyers the director of the Kegley Institute of ethics and a professor at CSU Bakersfield, on FM89's program Valley Edition. Meyers was at the assisted living facility the day Bayless passed away.
“Ironically I happened to be in the facility on the day this happened on a completely unrelated case. I had with me Dr. Jennifer Black who is one of our palliative care physicians in town. She asked me later, ‘so what if I had gone over to the dining hall to get a cup of coffee and saw Miss. Bayless in distress?’ She felt that not knowing otherwise she probably would have had to do some level of intervention,” said Meyers.
Police later determined no crime was committed, and the woman’s family doesn’t plan to seek legal action. They say their mother and grandmother didn’t want any “life prolonging intervention.”
“Some kind of intervention was clearly appropriate. Whether that included CPR I think the family’s answer tells us exactly both what Ms. Bayless expected and what the family expected. Which was that they should not have done that level of aggressive intervention,” said Meyers.
Both doctors agreed that confusion in the incident could have been cleared with a simple document called a POLST form which stands for physician orders for life sustaining treatment. The document, if signed by a physician should be followed in good faith by any healthcare provider in the case of emergency treatment.
Dr. Michael Nisco, the program director of the Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship Program at UCSF Fresno, said the real issue at hand that the doctors mentioned is a lack of conversation over end of life care between doctors, elderly patients and their relatives.
“I find that the older generation is very much wanting to speak with their children about it. It’s actually the adult children themselves that are having a hard time. Oh mom, don’t say that. I don’t want to talk about that,” said Nisco.
Both Meyers and Nisco point to Bayless’ death as a possible beginning for better education on end of life care and what it means for an aging population.
“It’s all about the conversation. It’s one thing to fill these things out. [But] it doesn’t do a whole lot of good if you haven’t talked with your family about it, if you haven’t talked to your loved ones, the people who are likely going to be at your side in such circumstances,” said Meyers.