Everyone agrees that when the time comes they want a “good death”. This doesn’t magically happen, it takes planning on the part of the patient. Making end-of-life care choices is one of the biggest, most important decisions in a person’s life. It is the patient’s responsibility to be proactive towards treatment they do or do not want to receive. Only after being fully informed about the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment options will they feel more in control.
Americans plan everything in their lives from schools, careers, weddings, vacations and retirement but avoid plans for end-of-life. The reasons for this range from being too busy, not wanting to talk about death and dying and just putting off things that are unpleasant, thinking you’ll deal with it tomorrow. The most valuable tools to have in place for end-of-life care are Advance Directives. These include two types of documents, a Living Will and a health care power of attorney. A living will allows an individual to refuse life-sustaining treatment in the time they are terminally ill. A healthcare power of attorney covers all health care decisions, and lasts only as long as you are unable of making decisions for yourself. A responsible person doesn’t leave this these decisions until crisis strikes and they no longer are able to communicate their wishes. This is an emotional time for spouses, adult children and siblings. It is also difficult to figure out exactly what the people they love would have wanted. It is the family’s responsibility to talk about such things as;
• what medical treatments and care are acceptable
• do you wish to be resuscitated if you stop breathing or if the heart stops,
• do you want to be hospitalized or stay at home.
Discussing how your care will be paid for and if there is enough insurance should also be brought up. A trusted person should know where all the important documents are; insurance- medical, long-term care and life policies. Instructions should be written out for the funeral, burial or cremation choices.
Being honest and open with the physician is key. The doctor must honor the patients’ wishes or else transfer their care to another doctor that will. Getting second and even third opinions from different doctors is another way of taking control of your medical care. Having complete knowledge of what’s in store is the only way to make responsible decisions. Making sure the health care provider is on the same page when it comes to the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual care of the patient will ease the dying person. Knowing that medical decision making is a process which allows changes throughout care.
Death is such a taboo in today’s society. For this to change people must get thinking and talking to their family and doctors. This will give the patient a voice, health care providers clear ideas about choices at the end-of-life and comfort to the family that they have no doubts about what their loved one wants. We must all take responsibility for ourselves.