Palliative (Comfort) and Hospice Care

Palliative care and hospice care are often confused, yet they are very similar when it comes to the most important issue for dying people: care.

Palliative care is treatment of the discomfort, symptoms, and stress of serious illness, with comfort and quality of life as primary goals. It provides relief from distressing symptoms including pain, shortness of breath, nausea, problems with sleep, anxiety, and side effects of medications. It is important to note that palliative care is for anyone with a serious illness. It is available for any age and any stage of an illness, and may include curative treatment. People usually receive palliative care at clinics or hospitals, but home visits are becoming more common.

Hospice is a form of palliative care that seeks to optimize the quality of life at the end of life, while neither hindering nor hastening the dying process. It is an important Medicare benefit for terminally ill patients who may only have months to live. People who receive hospice care no longer receive curative treatment for their underlying disease. Hospice is not a place, but rather a form of medical care that enables the probability of a peaceful death for most people. It is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, HMOs (such as Kaiser Permanente), the Veterans Administration, and most private health insurers.

To qualify for hospice, a person usually has six months or less to live and will be required to decline further curative treatments. A referral from a doctor, who usually remains your primary care physician during hospice care, is required. Hospice caregivers control pain and other symptoms and provide counseling, family support, and many other services. Additionally, hospice helps people remain in control and die at home, where most people prefer to die. For those who cannot remain at home, inpatient hospice facilities may be available. Hospice can also be provided in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.

While hospice has no legal role in the Death with Dignity (DWD) process, some hospices – particularly those affiliated with religious organizations – are less supportive of DWD than others. If having hospice support for the decision to pursue the option of DWD is important, be sure to question potential hospice providers about their policies. Most hospices will not deny care to a patient pursing the option of DWD, although they may choose to opt out of supporting a patient on the day of ingesting medications.

End of Life Washington believes that hospice is an essential component of end-of-life care and encourages all individuals who have received a terminal diagnosis to enroll in hospice. Hospice is essential for terminally ill people who choose to stop treatment and/or voluntarily stop eating and drinking, especially if they wish to remain in their homes.

For more information, request or see our handout:

The Importance of Hospice

or go to the Washington State Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s website,

The Importance of Hospice

End of Life Washington believes that hospice is an essential component of end-of-life care and encourages all individuals who have received a terminal diagnosis to enroll when they become eligible. Hospice can help people remain in control and die at home. The goal of hospice is to improve quality of life in the patient’s last months, focusing on comfort care, control of pain, and symptom management, as opposed to continuing curative treatments.

Updated 1-10-2020

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End of Life Washington provides advice and support to people considering all end-of-life decisions, including Death with Dignity. For more information about any of these end-of-life options and to request our free client support services, contact End of Life Washington – or 206.256.1636.

Hospice Eligibility

Criteria for whether a person with various illnesses is eligible for hospice

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Hospice and Physician-Assisted Death

Although the overwhelming majority of terminally ill patients in Oregon who seek a physician’s aid in dying are enrolled in hospice programs, hospices do not take a major role in this practice. An examination of fifty-five Oregon hospices reveals that both legal and moral questions prevent hospices from collaborating fully with physician-assisted death. – Courtney Campbell

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ALS Hospice Criteria

Rainbow Hospice Care document for determining terminal status Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Patients will be considered to be in the terminal stage of the individuals’ prognosis (life expectancy of six months or less) if the terminal illness runs its normal course.

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