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by Abigail Van Buren

Letting Go Can Be Family's Act of Love for Dying Patient

DEAR ABBY: I have been an intensive care nurse for more than 20 years, and I wholeheartedly agree with the poem you printed, "Let Me Go." Too often patients are kept alive under impossible circumstances.

I must take exception, however, to the phrase that pleads for the "doctor" to let go. That is not the case today. Rather, it is the FAMILIES who cannot let go and insist that the doctors continue heroic measures. They put the doctors in an impossible position. In our litigious society, doctors press on for fear of being punished in court.

Doctors should be honest with family members about the course of the patient's disease so that informed decisions can be made regarding the patient's care and possible withdrawal of treatment. There comes a point when treatment should stop. Pressing on may serve only the needs of those making the request, and not the needs of the patient.

Letting go can be an unselfish act of love for the patient. -- MICHELLE STUART, LAKE FOREST PARK, WASH.

DEAR MICHELLE: It is important that there be honest and ongoing communication between doctors, patients and families. The best doctors answer questions honestly and do not try to "protect" the patient and family by giving them "false hope." They know when to say that the prognosis is not good, and there are no treatment options left.

With empathy and sensitivity, doctors, nurses and social workers can help the patient and family make the decision to "let go," and when the time comes, to concentrate on pain relief and quality of life.