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Poll: Most support end-of-life options

Oregon's reputation as a leader in end-of-life care is supported by a survey of Pacific Northwest residents released Wednesday by the Portland's Regence Foundation and the National Journal, a Washington, D.C.-based media organization.

A poll of 1,200 registered voters in Oregon and Washington found that residents of the only two states that allow physician assisted suicide - Oregon and Washington - are also more open to other end-of-life options such as hospice care.

The poll asked whether enhancing the quality of life for seriously ill patients is more important than extending life as long as possible. In a February nationwide poll conducted for the National Journal, 71 percent of respondents said they supported enhanced quality of life. In Wednesday's poll, 83 percent of Washington residents and 85 percent of Oregon residents chose quality of life instead of length.

'People in Oregon and Washington are incredibly open to options around end of life care,' says Joanna Fief, spokeswoman for the Regence Foundation, about the survey results.

Palliative care, loosely defined as emphasizing quality of life with measures such as pain relief, rather than focusing on disease control, was supported by 97 percent of Washington voters surveyed and 96 percent of Oregonians. Interestingly, however, only 32 percent of Oregonians and 26 percent of Washington residents were familiar with the term palliative care.

Fief says that could be a problem for patients and family members.

'They don't always know what to ask for,' she says. 'If you're unfamiliar with that term (palliative care) it can be difficult to express the type of care that you're looking for.'

Other findings from the poll:

• Half the Oregonians surveyed and 47 percent of Washington residents agreed with a statement that the health care system spends too much money trying to extend the lives of those close to death. Nationally, 37 percent agreed.

• Only 46 percent of Oregon and Washington voters said they believed doctors and other health care professionals do a thorough enough job explaining palliative care options to patients.

Fief says that the existence of physician-assisted suicide options in Oregon and Washington probably has some bearing on the survey's overall findings.

'Palliative care is very different from the Death With Dignity Act,' she says. 'But one of the benefits is, there have been more conversations about end-of-life options in Oregon.'