“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen
Woody’s quip captures in a few short words how many people feel about death. Despite the fact that we all know it’s inevitable, we like to think of death as something that happens to someone else. Not me. Not my family. Not my loved ones. So you avoid having “the conversation.” As a result, when the end of life is near, or when an accident or illness strikes and you become unable to speak for yourself, those closest to you are left second guessing what your wishes would be.
April 16 has been declared National Healthcare Decisions Day, a day to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning. It’s an initiative to encourage patients to express their wishes regarding healthcare and for providers and facilities to respect those wishes, whatever they may be.
Your decisions can be written down in advance directives so that others know what they are. Advance directives come in two main forms. A “healthcare power of attorney” (or “proxy” or “agent” or “surrogate”) documents the person you select to be your voice for your healthcare decisions if you cannot speak for yourself. A “living will” documents what kinds of medical treatments you would or would not want at the end of life. You can choose to have every conceivable medical intervention known to humankind or have only minimal invention and pain control. It’s your call.
Throughout my career of working first in hospitals, and then in hospice, I’ve seen family members struggle and agonize over what actions to take for their seriously ill loved ones. Sometimes, opinions differ among relatives and arguments break out. What are the patient’s values? What would he or she want? Would he want to be resuscitated? Where would she prefer to die?
In business and in life, I always like to have a plan – that includes a roadmap for how I want to live my life and how I’d want to end it. So, several years ago, I put my wishes in writing. My wife, Joyce, knows where these documents are kept, and she and I have talked at length about our preferences. My daughters also know how I feel about end-of-life care and what choices I would make. I feel confident that should something happen to me, they would serve as my advocates and honor my choices.
Without making your wishes known, you leave others in an emotional and ethical quandary. Thinking about what would be important to you in a medical crisis and making your wishes known to loved ones is actually an incredible gift. So, regardless of age or health status, I encourage you to write advance directives and take time to have thoughtful conversations about those decisions. It will give all of you guidance, reassurance, comfort and peace of mind.
For more information about National Healthcare Decisions Day and the many resources available on end-of-life planning, go to www.nhdd.org.