Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday signed a letter of intent to choose hospice palliative care to raise public awareness about hospices, after the legislature significantly relaxed the threshold needed to suspend treatment for terminal illnesses.
Under the approved amendment to the Hospice Palliative Care Act (安寧緩和醫療條例), a decision not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a terminally ill patient or not to provide life-sustaining treatment to such a patient can be made when two doctors confirm a terminal diagnosis and when the individual has signed a letter of intent.
Such a letter may be replaced by a statement of consent given by the patient’s nearest family member when the individual is unconscious and is not able to provide informed consent, while consent from a parent or a legal guardian is required in case of children or adolescent patients, the amendment stipulated.
In the case of a patient whose letter of intent is not available, who cannot clearly express his or her wishes and who has no relatives, a hospital’s hospice medical team can make a decision in the best interests of the patient, it stated.
At any rate, any decision made by other people to terminate medical care for a terminally ill patient may not go against the wishes expressed by the patient before he or she became unconscious, the law said.
Hsu Ming-neng (許銘能), director of the Department of Health’s Bureau of Medical Affairs, said that the revision would help relieve terminal patients from intolerable and incurable suffering caused by difficulties in meeting the requirements for withdrawing life-support systems.
Previously, doctors were obligated to maintain life support for the terminally ill if any of a patient’s spouse, children, grandchildren or parents refused their consent for ending treatment and when a case had not yet been approved by the hospital’s medical ethics committee.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Yang Yu-hsin (楊玉欣), who sponsored an addition to the law, arranged for Wang to sign the letter of intent at a press conference.
“The revisions enable patients to end his or her life in a humane and dignified manner,” Yang said.
According to the Department of Health, as of last month a total of about 142,936 people have signed such letters of intent, with the rate increasing from 638 people submitting letters per month in 2006 to more than 3,200 submissions per month this year.
Meanwhile, the legislature approved an amendment to the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例) to require the government to cover all medical expenses for people over the age of 65 living in Kinmen County, Lienchiang County, Penghu County, Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼), Green Island, and Liouciou Township (琉球) in Pingtung County.
According to Independent Legislator Chen Hsueh-sheng (陳雪生), the government needs to earmark about NT$117.6 million (US$4.04million) a year to take care of about 28,000 elderly residents that lack medical resources, following the amendment.