As the world knows, Americans place great importance on the privilege of free will, a gift and right that all humans should enjoy. Yet, when it comes to decisions concerning the circumstances at the end of our lives, most people have no written or otherwise articulated plans for their loved ones, physicians, or medical staff to follow when they can no longer speak for themselves. Many people haven’t even given it thought! Of course, no one enjoys dwelling on sickness and death. But, I believe that the privilege of free will also comes with responsibility–if we as sentient beings have the power of choice, we should feel obligated not only to make these choices before it’s too late, but also to do so in a way that others will be able to understand and follow your wishes when you are no longer able to decide or care for yourself. This is the best way to ensure that the end of life will happen the way you want it to, not the way your loved ones, your doctor, or the hospital staff wants it to.
A third of the Medicare budget is now spent in the last year of life, and a third of that goes for care in the last month. Those figures would surely be lower if more Americans, while they were still healthy, took the initiative to spell out what treatments they do — and do not — want by writing living wills and appointing health care proxies.
As the article states, medical costs are almost always highest at the end of life, as modern medicine attempts to stave off our inevitable deaths with almost any measure. As a society, we run from it. However, this is often not the patient’s desire, but instead the desire of family or the attending physician! Because so many of us do not take the time to communicate how we want our final medical care to treat us, the decision ends up being left to others when we become physically or mentally unable to make choices for ourselves. As a result, the end of life is sometimes dragged out to the last possible hope, or beyond, because it may be very difficult for those around us to let go and accept the universality of death.
We should always question our healthcare providers and research everything we can about what is making us sick and what can be done about it. Modern medicine isn’t perfect and physicians are only human, and extra knowledge or opinions can never hurt! The more we know, the better we are able to make informed decisions that are best suited to us.