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For Release: March 23, 2010
David Corriveau, Media Relations Officer, Dartmouth Medical School, at or 603-653-0771

Byock in end-of-life debate at National Press Club

Ira Byock, M.D.

Lebanon, N.H.—Ira Byock, M.D., director of the palliative-care program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), will debate end-of-life issues with a panel of other experts at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on March 24.

The debate, on the subject of whether rising Medicare costs will force rationing of end-of-life care, is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Eastern daylight time, under the direction of the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs. The center will Web-cast the debate, and a telecast will air at dates to be announced on PBS stations around the country.

Byock is a professor of anesthesiology and of community and family medicine at Dartmouth Medical School (DMS). His writings on the subject of end-of-life care include the book, Dying Well. He talked about the issue - including the current pace of 25 percent of Medicare spending going to patients' last year of life - during a recent segment of the CBS News magazine show 60 Minutes.

Other scheduled panelists for the debate are Ken Connor, chairman of the Center for a Just Society and attorney for Florida governor Jeb Bush's in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case; Marie Hilliard, director of Bioethics and Public Policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center; and Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics. Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs and a PBS NewsHour analyst, will moderate the debate.

Debaters will argue what, if anything, the government should do to contain costs, and whether it should spend less on costly end-of-life procedures and divert those resources to care for more patients. While the newly approved health-care reform legislation could alter the trajectory of the discussion a bit, Byock expects issues of cost to play a role in the larger national conversation well beyond this debate.

"One way or the other, we have limited resources to allocate - a word I much prefer to 'rationing,'" Byock says. "We're spending far more on this kind of care than any other industrialized country, for far less results."

Topics also will include whether to let patients and their doctors decide on end-of-life care, such as living wills and pain management.

The National Press Club and MacNeil/Lehrer Productions are producing the debate with the Miller Center, a nonpartisan public-policy institution that brings together engaged citizens, scholars, members of the media, and government officials on topics of national importance.


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