Most people find it difficult to discuss the possibility of catastrophic illness, and other end of life issues. It’s not the most pleasant subject. But, if you don’t plan ahead, and talk with your family and loved-ones about your health care, they will be uncertain how to respond if you become ill and cannot help them with decision making. A local survey found that 42% of individuals had never had a conversation about plans for end of life care with anyone. Only about 7% had talked with their health care provider, and 59% had no advance directives such as a Health Care Proxy. More people had spoken about such issues with their attorneys than with their families and religious advisors.
Ask yourself some questions when considering your planning. Do you have a significant health problem? What problems might you expect in the future? What role does faith play in your life? Under what conditions would you want your health care goals changed from prolonging your life to focusing on your comfort? How would the expense of care influence your decisions?
The most important thing is to have a talk with your family and loved-ones about your feelings on end of life care. The next thing to do is to have the proper documents written and signed so they are legal and binding. The most common planning tool is a Health Care Proxy also known as a Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document names an agent who will have full legal authority to make health care decisions for you, if you can no longer do so yourself. Of course, if you are able to make your own decisions, then only you will do so. No one can take that away from you. But, if you are unable to communicate because you are unconscious or have some sort of brain damage or inability to communicate, then your agent can make your decisions for you.
You must make sure to choose the right person as your agent. You must trust this person. You should feel confident that your chosen agent will be able, physically and mentally, to make decisions for you if necessary. You should also name an alternate person, in case your first choice isn’t available. And most of all, you must have a least a short talk about your feelings regarding medical care, especially those tough decisions like terminating life-sustaining treatment.
It is easier to have these difficult conversations when you are not facing an imminent illness or death. People can often joke and laugh about these grim realities when they are just remote possibilities. But, if you are facing an illness, don’t put this off. The discussion may be harder, but it is even more urgent that you have it.
End of life is just another part of life. It is a natural occurrence that requires some consideration. Your discussion should focus not only on practical matters of care, and cost, but also on spiritual and emotional issues. Don’t wait until it is too late. Plan for all of your life right now.