It’s understandably difficult to discuss your end of life wishes with your loved ones. Most of us usually do not earnestly talk about our passing, unless maybe to informally declare our funeral wishes.
While most Americans are aware that it’s important to be prepared for one’s passing, both financially and in terms of healthcare, most haven’t taken the proper measures to prepare. These measures are sometimes known as advance directives.
They help your loved ones and medical professionals have a clearer picture of what kind of medical care you want. It also gives specific individuals the ability to make crucial medical choices for you.
This lack of preparedness has become such a concern that physicians have banded together to advocate for bringing up end of life considerations to patients and their loved ones, in order to encourage patients to consider thinking about having critical conversations with their family about important palliative and advance healthcare questions.
Since 2010, the Conversation Project aims to shed light on the fact that less than a third of patients speak with their family about end of life matters and help prepare them through a ‘starter kit’. We will aim to provide a little starter kit of our own, helping you get the ball rolling on discussing your end of life wishes with your loved ones.
Communication Is Key
First and foremost, this is a conversation you must have with the whole family. Having a plan for your healthcare is important. There may be a time when you will be unable to make critical healthcare decisions for yourself. Your family needs to know where you stand, what your values and wishes are, should anything happen to you.
It’s clear that there’s no way you can predict exactly what might happen. Unless you have a chronic or terminal condition, your end of life wishes most likely will not be addressing every single potential outcome. However, an important choice to make is the choice of whom to pick as your advocate. They will act as your emergency contact and the first person to communicate with doctors and coordinate your family.
Speak to your family and determine who is best to be your advocate. If you don’t consider anyone in your family ready to take on the job, then consider a professional patient advocate. If no one is specified, doctors (and the healthcare system) will have to turn to those closest to you. They might not always be the best people to navigate the complex and head-scratching healthcare system we have today.
Regardless of whom you choose as your advocate, it’s important for everyone close to you to be aware of your choices. That way should anything happen to you, they know who to talk to, and who to ask for information.
Talk Openly About Your Values and Wishes
We don’t know how our lives will end, but we have certain wishes that we want protected in our absence. Some people do not wish to be revived should they require resuscitation, and others do not want to be on life support or undergo specific treatments.
While there are ways to put into writing your end of life care, it is often enough to communicate these wishes to your loved ones.
Consider a Durable Power of Attorney (POA)
Another option to ensure that your will is accurately represented is to make use of a durable power of attorney. A power of attorney is a document that gives individuals limited powers to make financial and/or healthcare decisions in your name. A regular power of attorney typically allows someone to make decisions while you are still capable.
However, should you be incapacitated, such a document would not give that person any power at all. That is where a durable power of attorney enters the picture. This document gives a designated individual the power to make decisions in your name even while you are incapacitated.
A power of attorney becomes void when you pass away. It can also be nullified by your command, through a revocation form. When drafting (or revoking) a power of attorney, you should hire a lawyer so the process goes smoothly.
A lawyer can help you further specify the limitations of your agent’s power of attorney. This is particularly important if you decide to create a living will. You can use the power of attorney document to clarify that your agent does not have the power to overwrite your wishes, as per other advance directives.
Living Wills and Their Role in End-of-Life Planning
Living wills are documents that provide more concrete instructions to healthcare providers, should you be rendered incapacitated. You can use a living will to discern certain healthcare measures that you can expect. Such as (but not limited to):
- Palliative care (the use of powerful painkillers to reduce suffering in a person’s final days).
- Intravenous nutrition (which can prolong life while incapacitated, and may be unwanted).
- Specific life-prolonging measures (CPR, respirator, surgeries, etc).
Your life is in your hands, and a living will gives you the power to specify how you want it to end.
The Bottom Line
End of life choices are very difficult to make. However, it’s important to make certain decisions before you find yourself unable to make any at all.
A living will requires a more concrete understanding of what you may want, you can also assign a patient advocate. They can speak to your family about your healthcare wishes, and your personal beliefs and values.
Some people want all measures on the table to save their life. Others want to ensure that they can pass on without these measures.