Everyone is going to die. All of us. Some will die when we are young, some when we are old. Some will die a quick death, and others will linger while those around us try to figure out what to do. (I know, I don’t like it either.)
So, when the discussions about the Medicare “death panels” was going on, and people were saying that all this talk about “end of life conversations” would lead to more old people dying it made me wonder what people think will happen if you don’t talk about your end of life wishes. Because even if you don’t talk about what you want to happen at the end of your life, the end of your life will still come. And having the talk (or talks, this isn’t necessarily a one time thing if your beliefs or situation changes) with your family and doctor will not hasten your death, despite what some people fear.
Talking about your end of life wishes is the way to make sure that when that time comes your family knows what you want, and they are able to communicate to your doctors so that your wishes are carried out. It gives your family comfort knowing that any difficult decision is yours, not theirs. And it can go a long way towards making sure your wishes are respected and honored, even if they are not the same decisions your loved ones would make for themselves.
If you don’t have a doctor you are comfortable with, or maybe you don’t have a regular doctor, you can have the conversation with your family or your friends. You can write your wishes down and keep them somewhere where they would be found in an emergency.
Then, you need to give someone the legal authority to make health care decisions for you if you become unable to make those decisions (or communicate them.) In Massachusetts the way you do this is by signing a Health Care Proxy. You can have this document drawn up by an attorney, you can also download a free health care proxy (also called an Advance Directive) from the South Shore Hospital website, or ask your doctor for one.
In addition to giving someone the legal authority to act on your behalf, you want to provide them with guidance on the decisions you want made. You can do this with a 5 Wishes Living Will from Aging With Dignity, or the What If…Workbook, (which I sometimes think should be called the “When Workbook” since at some point in time, everyone will need it.)
For my clients, I always include a health care proxy with their estate plan, and we talk about their end of life wishes and document those wishes for their family and doctors. I can tell you that so far not one of my clients has died from having that conversation. But I can also tell you that 100% of them will die someday.