Sunday, December 1, 2013
No one wants to talk about death and dying, and the end-of-life decisions that must be made.
The holiday season may seem like a terrible time to dwell on something that most Americans seem to think will go away if we ignore it. It won’t. The sooner we accept our own mortality and the mortality of our loved ones, the easier things will be for us and our families.
And the holiday season when families gather together is an opportune time to broach the subject. No, it won’t be a pleasant conversation. But it doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out, tear-inducing talk. While it is impossible to totally separate emotion from the subject, you have the best chance of presenting a logical, thoughtful review of your wishes if it is done before the need arises.
Do you want your family to make sure every possible effort and medication is used to delay your death, even if it won’t improve the quality of your life and may only prolong things for a short time? Do your family members know that?
Do you want to avoid extraordinary measures and shun being hooked up to a machine that will keep your body alive even though there is little hope for recovery? Do you have a Living Will that spells that out? Do your family members and doctors know your wishes?
If you aren’t capable of making the decision, who will see to it that your wishes are followed? What are the determining factors? Quality of life? Chances of recovery or length of time before a relapse? Intensity of pain? Cost?
When the end finally comes, do you want to be an organ donor? Is everyone aware of this?
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found the percentage of people who believe doctors should always do everything possible to save a life doubled from 15 percent to 31 percent between 1990 and 2013. According to The Associated Press story, when asked about their own lives, 20 percent said doctors should do everything possible to save them even if they have an incurable disease, are in great pain, are totally dependent on someone else for care or have trouble doing day-to-day activities.
The survey found 46 percent would want doctors to stop their treatment in some of those cases.
There are no right or wrong answers to this. But at some point, someone will have to make that decision. You owe it to yourself and your family to have thought this through and clearly communicated your wishes.
Taking the burden of this decision off their shoulders is the best gift you can give them.