The Lessons of Jimmy Carter’s Hospice Decision
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On February 18th, the Carter Center announced former president Jimmy Carter was entering hospice and spending time with his family at home.
Carter is perhaps the most prominent American to publicly announce his choice of hospice and with it, has publicized this important resource which is often misunderstood.
Solace Cremation checked in with several leaders in the end-of-life and hospice arena to gather their views on the lessons he gives us with his choice.
Social worker and Death Deck co-creator Lisa Pahl agrees and says Carter’s announcement, like his openness about his cancer treatment in 2015, is an opportunity for more understanding of hospice. “I have so much gratitude for him and his family for getting these messages out there, that sickness, dying and death do not have to be hidden.”
Pahl says one thing she has noticed about the media coverage of Carter’s decision is that his hospice choice is described as “forgoing medical treatment,” but as she explained to Solace Cremation, “In reality, we shift the focus from curative to comfort, still treating, but rather treating for symptom management rather than to cure.”
End Well founder, Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider, tells Solace Cremation, “By raising awareness about hospice care, more individuals may feel comfortable seeking this type of care when they are facing a life-limiting illness. This can help to increase access to hospice services and ensure that patients receive the tailored care and support that they need.” She says that hospice care is also supportive of the caregivers and that “when hospice care is normalized, more caregivers may receive the support they need to care for their loved ones, reducing stress and burnout.”
The Hospice Heart’s Gabby Jimenez is more focused on the lessons of Carter’s life, “As I revisit his work and accomplishments, I imagine what his family must think, and the legacy he will leave behind for all of them, and those that come after them. Besides being one of the presidents of our country, he did some remarkable and generous work. He reminds me to strive for making a difference, being the best version of myself, and to live a full life, one of which one of which my children and grandchildren would be proud of.” But Jimenez says she’s comforted by the fact he’s receiving hospice care, “because it means he will be provided with compassionate care, something I wish for all humans … not just presidents.”
Mettle Health founders BJ Miller and Sonja Dolan are hopeful this will get more people curious about hospice care since it is so often misunderstood. “The takeaway is that hospice care is appropriate for EVERYONE and signing on to hospice is not “giving up.” This man has lived with metastatic brain cancer and other health issues and is recognizing the moment to transition to this level of care (at 98!) and that’s a beautiful thing,” they wrote.
U.K. palliative care expert and author Dr. Kathryn Mannix shared this message with us, “My hope for President Carter is that any symptoms of his illnesses are well-enough controlled that he can enjoy physical comfort and emotional peace of mind as he rests from his many years of service to his nation and to the world. May he have moments of joy with his loved ones as he accepts the approach of death at the end of his distinguished life.”
“Gone From My Sight” author and hospice pioneer, Barbara Karnes tells Solace, “Jimmy Carter’s life is an example of how to be of service. His last act is also one of service. By going on hospice, he and his family address an often overlooked and misunderstood component of healthcare. He has opened the door to showing others that the end of life can be embraced in a dignified, comforting manner. Our blessings and thoughts are with him and his entire family during this special time.”
Photo: LBJ Library