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Sunday

Doctors Being Trained to Help Terminally Ill Patients Die Comfortably

Aired November 19, 2000 - 5:18 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: Pain, depression and fear -- there are many factors that haunt terminally ill patients. Now some doctors find themselves teaching a lesson about finding grace and comfort in those final days.

Here is CNN medical correspondent Eileen O'Connor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But your pain is really a lot better controlled than it was before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm getting more sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wonderful.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A study from the National Institutes of Health shows it may not be pain, but depression and fear of being a burden to their families that drive many terminally ill patients to consider physician-assisted suicide.

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: It's depression or hopelessness that really motivates these patients to want euthanasia or assisted suicide; and it's not pain.

O'CONNOR: With incurable heart disease and crippling arthritis, Raymond Occhialini was in constant pain and in need of assistance. With the help of doctor Gail Gazelle, he and his family learned to deal with the dying process together, relieving anxiety that was worse than the pain.

RAYMOND OCCHIALINI: My life better now. For one thing, I don't have the fear that I had before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he looks wonderful.

O'CONNOR: His children, working with Dr. Gazelle, helped their father live and die the way he wanted.

JOHN OCCHIALINI, SON: From the counseling and the talking about death and getting it out in the open and having discussions over it has made it a lot easier on us. O'CONNOR: That is why the American Medical Association is sponsoring Gazelle and others as they teach doctors across the country how to deal with, and not avoid, the inevitable death of their terminally ill patients.

DR. GAIL GAZELLE, HARVARD VANGUARD MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: We've come to realize in the last 20 years that we're not doing very well with patients who are dying. Patients die in ICUs, they die in pain, they die without their loved ones around them; and the AMA program is about changing that.

O'CONNOR: Physicians are learning how to communicate with patients about their fear and their final desires. They study how to orchestrate the patient's family, friends, spiritual counselors and home health nurses to achieve a quiet, fulfilled passing.

GAZELLE: It's about helping patients to not suffer, to be with their loved ones, to have their own goals and values achieved and to really die in a way that is more comfortable for them.

O'CONNOR: To die, as Raymond Occhialini did, in peace.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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