The National Health Commission (NHC) plans to allow patients to reject medical health treatment to prevent prolonged suffering due to terminal illness.
Called palliative care, the plan was discussed recently among various parties including 13 organisations from the public and social sectors. Dr Chanchai Sittipunt, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, said the Advance Care Plan (ACP) can be improved by encouraging patients to make living wills to avoid unnecessary treatment to prolong their lives.
According to Section 12 of the National Health Bill, patients can make out a living will saying they do not want public health services which would prolong their life. He added the desired result for the treatment of each disease varies.
For treatable diseases, it is desirable to help patients recover from the illnesses. However, for incurable diseases, the goal might be to ease physical and emotional pain in the latter stages. The key to taking care of dying patients is to avoid unnecessary treatment that may hurt them, and focus on providing palliative care, he said.
"Even though we can prolong their lives with modern meditational tools, they will still have to suffer severe symptoms which might not indicate successful treatment.
"However, prolonging life for a few days can be good for the family to see the patient one last time. Palliative care needs to focus on the patients rather than the will of their relatives," said Dr Chanchai.
Dr Issarang Nuchprayoon, a professor of paediatrics at Chulalongkorn University and secretary-general of the Wishing Well Foundation, said treatment does not guarantee recovery from cancer. Some diseases might indicate a fatality despite the treatment.
"We are not scared of death, instead we are scared of suffering from the symptoms. Palliative care will prevent patients from suffering and offer them quality of life before death," said Dr Issarang.
Sutthipong Wasusophaphon, deputy secretary-general of the National Health Commission, said living wills created by dying patients play a key role in an ageing society.
Thailand has entered an ageing society and more senior citizens are suffering from chronic diseases. The plan to provide palliative care for dying patients will help ease financial costs and improve patients' quality of life, he said.
Living wills made by patients can also prevent disputes between family and hospitals, he added.