The Legacy Challenge: Dr. Frank Ferris and Dr. Charles von Gunten Plan to Make a Difference

Mar 04, 2021

Palliative care pioneers Frank D. Ferris, MD, and Charles F. von Gunten, MD, PhD, have spent their careers helping patients and families have the best possible experience and live life to the fullest while living with cancer.

“On my first night with a hospice case, I recall vividly how transformative it was for me, as a resident, when a nurse suggested the chest X-ray [that] I needed that night should wait until morning because it wouldn’t change the management and the patient wanted to sleep. That idea—thinking about what the patient wanted as much as what the patient needed—was simple but deliciously seditious,” said Dr. von Gunten.

That passing exchange directed his entire doctrine for treating terminally ill patients and resulted in a restructure for outpatient clinics at the Lakeside Veterans Affairs Hospital and the creation of the first palliative faculty at Northwestern University.

It was at a meeting of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine where Dr. von Gunten, past chair of the American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, met Dr. Ferris. The couple, who have been partnered since 1996, collaborated to develop the Education in Palliative and End-of-Life Care for Oncology (EPEC™-O) Curriculum with ASCO and the National Cancer Institute. EPEC-O has become the principal curriculum for building palliative medicine skills in the United States. It provided the foundation for Dr. Ferris’ global influence in palliative care.

Before arriving in Chicago in 1998, Dr. Ferris had already developed inpatient and home-based palliative consulting services, which led to the creation of government-funded care models in his native Canada. With passion and persistence, Dr. Ferris has helped develop palliative care models and programs in more than 40 countries.

In 2020, the doctors, who now lead the integration of Hospice & Palliative Medicine into OhioHealth in Columbus, OH, declared an estate gift to Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation.

“Our careers have honored the lives of our patients, and it’s a part of our legacy we want to continue,” said Dr. Ferris. “We chose Conquer Cancer because of ASCO’s commitment to changing the lives of patients and families through education domestically and internationally.”

The Legacy Challenge

Conquer Cancer is launching a Legacy Challenge, encouraging donors to leave a gift to Conquer Cancer in their estate plans and to document those intentions.

As Lynn Guamer, a senior gift planning consultant with The Stelter Company, explained, making a planned gift enables donors to achieve their dreams of a legacy while keeping control of their finances, which is especially important in uncertain economic times.

Dr. Ferris and Dr. von Gunten will join other prominent ASCO members in promoting the Legacy Challenge to bring awareness to the impact of planned gifts and encourage those who have already decided to donate to share their intentions with Conquer Cancer.

It took decades for pioneers like Dr. Ferris and Dr. von Gunten to normalize conversations about death and standardize care for dying patients. For their part in the Legacy Challenge, they want to normalize the sharing of estate plans.

“Communicating and negotiating goals of care efficiently is the basis of good palliative care,” said Dr. Ferris, “and it should be the gold standard for planned giving, as well.”

Learn more about planned gifts and declare your intention as part of the Legacy Challenge.


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