Bottom Line Inc.: "Plan for the Death You Want"

Bottom Line Inc.

Maria had lived a good life. The 81-year-old Californian raised a family, enjoyed a happy 50-year marriage and ran a secondary school. But now she was suffering from crippling arthritis and congestive heart failure. She signed legal documents declining resuscitation efforts and ­extraordinary life-sustaining measures.

A year later, Maria was sleeping in a hospital bed—she was receiving treatment for a stomach problem—when her heart and breathing stopped. It was the peaceful death she had hoped for…until the hospital staff shocked her heart back to life and put her on a mechanical ventilator, despite her wishes. Unable to speak, Maria expressed her desire to be taken off the machine through a series of yes/no hand squeezes with her son, but the hospital persisted. Maria eventually died after more than a week of suffering. The hospital staff ignored Maria’s legal documents because those documents began, “If I am terminally ill…” and the doctors said she had a slim chance of survival. They ignored her hand-squeeze instructions because they thought Maria was no longer competent to make her own decisions.

Most people have thoughts about how and where they would prefer their lives to end. And more than one-third of American adults have proactively formalized their end-of-life preferences in legal documents known as “advance ­directives.” Yet, like Marie, many of these people will unnecessarily endure deaths very different from what they desired.

Here’s how to increase the odds that your priorities will be honored when the end approaches…

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