End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

A Living Will May Be the Most Valuable Giftby Sonja

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by Dr. Katherine Jett
Henry County Local
January 23, 2013

There are many gifts that we give to our families throughout our lives – time, love, money, attention; the list goes on and on.  One of the most valuable gifts we can give our families is to have a living will.

I remember when my grandparents had failing health, and my family was caring for them.  They had living wills and had taken the time to let each of us know how they wanted to spend the final weeks and days of their lives.

After they passed away, my mom made a poignant statement about their illnesses.  She said their living wills had been a tremendous gift.
At first I didn’t understand so she explained.  In a time of stress and grief, a weight was lifted off of her shoulders.  The living will changed the dynamic of their passing because medical decisions were about honoring my grandparent’s wishes and not about the decisions of their children.
We spend our lives planning for our education, children, marriage, and retirement, but how many of us plan for the unthinkable?  

The first place to start is to have the conversation with your family.  It can be a difficult subject to broach, but I cannot stress the importance of discussing your wishes and writing them down.  This isn’t just a conversation for older people as bad things can happen to us at any age.

Questions to consider include:
What do I consider a good quality of life? Do I value quantity of days or quality of days?
If I get sick what kind of medical treatment do I want if I have a reversible medical condition?  What if the condition is permanent and untreatable?
Do I want CPR if my heart stops beating, a breathing machine if I can’t breathe on my own, or a feeding tube if I can’t eat or swallow?
Where do I want to die?  At home with family or in a hospital?
Do I want to consider Hosparus/hospice services if my life expectancy is six months or less?  (Hospice care is provided by a team of bereavement counselors, certified nursing assistants, chaplains, doctors, nurses, social workers, volunteers and other therapists that focus on symptom management and improving quality of life for patients with end stage diseases including cancer, heart failure, COPD, dementia, liver or kidney disease.)
Who could take care of me? (or my children if applicable)
Do I want my organs donated? What is involved in organ donation?
Do I want to be buried, cremated, or donate my body to science?

Set aside time to think about your wishes and have “The Conversation” with your family.  If you have questions discuss your options with your physician.  Once you have made your decisions, please share them with your family and put them in writing.  There are local and online resources that can help you with a living will.  Local lawyers and websites online can also provide valuable resources to help you make your wishes known.  End of life decisions are a very personal decision and no one knows what you want except you.  Take control of your own life and take the stress away from your family by making your living will today.