Former First Lady Barbara Bush Chooses Palliative Care Due To Failing Health

Barbara Bush, now age 92, has decided not to seek additional medical treatment.

Amanda Cooper
April 17, 2018 - 5:26 pm

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Barbara Bush is more than the former first lady; she is a loving mother, devoted wife, and nurturing grandmother. Her spirit of dignity, class, and strength and have been exhibited during her husband and son's two terms as president respectively. 

Over the span of years, she has been treated for Graves' disease, which is a thyroid condition, had heart surgery in 2009 for a severe narrowing of her main heart valve and was hospitalized a year before that for operation on a perforated ulcer. Once again, the public spotlight is on her failing health, but this time her choice of treatment or lack of is creating a broader conversation regarding health care. 

Earlier this week, the Bush family spokesman Jim McGrath said in a news release Sunday that "Mrs. Bush, now age 92, has decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on "comfort care" at home in Houston following consultations with her doctors and family. McGrath did not elaborate on the nature of Bush's health problems, but said she's suffered in recent years from congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The announcement came one day before National Health Care Decisions Day, which is a day when thousands focus on their end-of-life preferences. The national effort to define and document patients' wishes, before they absorb costly medical interventions aimed at prolonging life, was something that the former first lady had dedicated her time to in earlier years. Her willingness to use her public position to promote palliative care showed a spirit of compassion and dignity for others. 

Reports state that the Bush family is standing with the former first lady and offering her support and love.  Family spokesman Jim McGrath said, "It will not surprise those who know her that Barbara Bush has been a rock in the face of her failing health, worrying not for herself - thanks to her abiding faith - but for others," McGrath said. "She is surrounded by a family she adores and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving."

AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

Many are confused at what the term "comfort care" means and one of the common myths is that she has denied medical help. According to Dr. Haider Warraich, a fellow in cardiovascular medicine at Duke University Medical Center and author of the book "Modern Death," "Comfort care" usually refers to palliative care, which focuses on managing patients' symptoms to keep them comfortable and retain their dignity. For heart failure patients, he said, "comfort care" usually means opting not to use a breathing machine or CPR. But patients do continue to receive medical treatment."

Although Barbara Bush's health is failing, her granddaughter, Jenna Bush Hager an anchor on NBC's "Today" show says that she is in "great spirits" and the family is grateful for "everybody's prayers and thoughts." Hager also shared that her grandmother is resting comfortably with family, she is a fighter", and "We are grateful for her. She's the best grandma anybody could have ever had or have," she said.

Barbara Bush is an extraordinary woman who lives life with grace and ease. She once said, "Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people - your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way." As she rests in comfort, she is receiving back all of the love and prayers she gave way.