Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wrongful death in Hospice

Hospice patients are supposed to die of their disease, right? At least that's what I've always thought. This week I had the shock of learning that one of my patients had been found at home dead, likely due to foul play. It's not clear exactly what happened. Another family member was with him, also dead. There was talk of murder/suicide.

Processing this event has not been easy. This patient had been in and out of the inpatient facility, most recently discharged home a couple of weeks ago. At that time, he was doing fairly well with his symptoms and disease progression. He was still ambulatory, his pain was well controlled, and he was eating to his satisfaction. He knew that when his time came to die, he could return to the inpatient facility and the nursing staff he trusted would care for him. That had been his wish, to be cared for by these nurses in his final hours. His life, and his wishes, have been taken from him.

This sort of thing has never happened to me before. I don't have statistics on untimely deaths in hospice. I know that suicide occurs, but this was so obviously not suicide, at least not on the part of the patient. Are there statistics on murders of hospice patients? Has anyone else had a similar experience? I'd like to hear about it, and how you worked through it.