End-of-life decisions are hard. They’re not only hard for you, but even harder for your loved ones if you’ve never taken the time to share your thoughts, plans, preferences and desires. The subject is often touched on lightly when talking about other people’s illnesses or hospitalizations, but is rarely discussed in any detail when it comes to oneself.
Most people will say they don’t want to be “hooked up to a machine forever” or they only want to be supported artificially until their caregivers have done everything possible to explore the possibilities of a cure. But this illustrates the real problem with end-of-life decisions – because it’s never a matter of just these two choices. The most important decisions come long before the choice to terminate support: Who have you chosen as your caregivers? Who will be your health advocate when you’re not able to make decisions for yourself? Do you know what Life Support Treatment means? What does Life Support mean to you?
Do you know what a DNR is? Is there one in your medical files? The abbreviation stands for “Do Not Resuscitate” and if there are certain conditions under which you’d want caregivers to follow such a directive, there should be both electronic and hard copies in your medical records. Many chronically ill patients are very familiar with this document and discuss it with their physicians in detail. But those who become ill suddenly often learn about it in the midst of a their trauma. Never a good plan if you can avoid it. (Speaking of doctor discussions, check our recent blog on Prepping for Your Annual Physical ).
As a patient advocate, I was introduced to a great organization – Aging with Dignity – and their creation of a wonderful planning document called Five Wishes. You don’t need a lawyer to get Five Wishes. It’s available for a small fee directly from the organization and many estate attorneys have added this type of document to their client’s portfolios. You can’t download or print Five Wishes materials without paying for them, but you can review samples to get an idea of their content and the kind of questions you should be asking yourself.
In short, Five Wishes allows you to identify the person you want to make care decisions for you when you cannot, tells your loved ones or partner the kind of medical treatment you want, and everything else you want them to know about your end-of-life decisions. For more information, see the Aging With Dignity profile in our Health & Wellness Resources.
Of course, Aging With Dignity is not the only source for this type of document; many hospice and medical organizations have similar resources and you can also purchase planning materials through organizations like nolo.com or legalzoom.com.
Most importantly, you can’t just download these documents and then file them away. Set up a time to talk with the person you’ve chosen to be your advocate, then go over all their questions and your decisions together.
What do you think? Have you or your loved ones been through this experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts and invite you to comment below.