If you’re like many individuals, death and dying are topics you avoid in conversation. It can be an uncomfortable subject no matter how inextricably linked it is to the process of life.
With the ongoing advances in medical technology, the decisions around death become more complex. Because most individuals have not discussed their values or wishes, end-of-life decisions may be made that run counter to a dying individual’s desires.
To make sure your end-of-life plan reflects your choices, start by sharing your views with your spouse and other close family members before these difficult decisions are upon you. Only through deep and honest conversation can your family truly know how you want to finish out your life.
This discussion with family may be the first time you think through the difficult issues that will confront you in your final days. That’s okay. Use this conversation as a means to discover what’s important to you. Consider how you feel about life-prolonging measures, or how you want to be cared for. No one can consider every possibility that may emerge in the future, but the discussion with family will allow them to gain an understanding of what you want and help guide their decisions in the face of a more nuanced reality. Once you’ve had the conversations, you should let your physicians know what you decided.
If you are an adult child and do not know what your aging parents want, introduce the subject to them. Let them know that it’s important to you that their wishes are carried out in their remaining days.
Consider an advance directive, which is a set of written instructions to let others know the care plan you want for yourself. An advance directive typically includes a living will and a health care power of attorney, both of which are equally important.
The living will is a record of your end of life intentions in the event that you are suffering from a terminal illness and no longer able to speak for yourself. Engaging your doctor or other health care professional prior to, and after, writing the living will may be a useful exercise to understanding the issues you will need to address.
You should also appoint someone close to you that will make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so for yourself. You can accomplish this through a durable health care power of attorney (a/k/a health care proxy) — a document that will give your representative the legal authorization to access your medical records and make health care decisions for you.
End-of-life planning is a dynamic process since time changes situations and outlook. In view of that, you should periodically review your plan and make any modifications as conditions or perspectives evolve.