As much as our culture tries to avoid the topic, death is something we all must face. The older one gets, the more important it is to start an open, honest discussion about certain end-of-life preparations. How will you spend your remaining days? Who will take care of you as you approach the end? What sort of legal matters should you get taken care of before it is too late? What is the easiest way to help friends and family cope with your impending death? These are all important questions to ask yourself when you are dealing with end-of-life preparations.
The most important part of dealing with end-of-life care is to communicate your final wishes openly and honestly with your friends and loved ones. It may not be the easiest conversation to have, but it will definitely save your loved ones a lot of worry and stress. It is very difficult for others to try to make important decisions for you without any inclination as to what you would have wanted. Taking the time to communicate those wishes to the ones who will be handling your death will help relieve them of unnecessary stress and ease their minds.
There are a number of end-of-life preparations you will need to consider when deciding how you want to spend your remaining days. Most of these decisions revolve around how you wish to be treated if you become unable to make decisions for yourself. One of these decisions is choosing between aggressive medical treatments usually aimed at prolonging one’s life or attempting to cure one’s condition, and palliative care, which attempts to make one’s final days as comfortable as possible in lieu of seeking to cure the illness. Both options carry their pros and cons depending on your current state of health and should be discussed thoroughly with your doctor and loved ones. If you have a serious chronic or degenerative condition that is incurable, painful or terribly expensive, palliative treatment may be your best option.
The right to refuse treatment is another end-of-life decision you will need to consider. This ties in with the aggressive treatment/palliative care discussion in that it affects those with terminal illness. While many terminally ill patients can extend their lives through treatment, it is the individual patient’s right to refuse that treatment if they don’t feel the quality of life they would be extending is worth it. It is a difficult decision that shouldn’t be made lightly.
Where one spends their remaining days is another end-of-life factor to consider. While a hospital would obviously give you better access to doctors, nurses, medicines and treatments, many people choose to live out their final days in the comfort of their own homes. It is extremely important to include every family member in this decision making process and take into consideration how your death may affect the ones around you. Talk to doctors, grief counselors, family members and other loved ones before deciding which option would be best for you.
There are a number of legal considerations you will want to settle before it is too late. These end-of-life preparations are commonly called advanced directives and deal with basic decisions that should be made before a medical condition makes you unable to make them. A living will is one type of advanced directive and outlines what types of treatments you wish to have if you become incapacitated in some way. For instance, a living will may state that you do not wish to be kept alive by artificial means such as a respirator. Consult a lawyer when drawing up a living will. After your living will is finished, give it to a family member or loved one for safe keeping; they will be able to present it to medical personnel at the appropriate time.
Another legal matter to consider is appointing a person to be a durable power of attorney, or DPOA. The DPOA is in charge of making decisions about your health care that you did not specify in your living will, such as questions of resuscitation and organ donation. Choose the person you believe would make the best decision for you and your family.
Like any will, changes can be made to your living will as long as you are in the right state of mind to make them. Don’t be afraid of deciding on something in your living will because you think you might change your mind. Your lawyer or DPOA will be able to help you make changes later if you decide to do so.
Dealing with end-of-life preparations is never easy. However, by taking care of these important matters while you are still able to do so you will be able to live out your final days knowing that you will be treated exactly as you wished.
~Ben Anton, 2008
Photo courtesy of the trial