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Mary Anne Davis: End-of-life conversations not easy, but important

Other Voices
Mary Anne Davis

We are living in unprecedented (and unsettling) times. In one way or the other, everyone is thinking about his or her own mortality. No doubt, each of us have been impacted by the uncertainties related to COVID-19.

For some, it means canceled travel plans or events. For others it means lost jobs and income.

For those in health care, it means bracing for the unknown clinical challenges ahead. Our hearts go out to thousands of people are fighting the illness, those who have died from it, and the people who love them.

Now, more than ever, it is important to know what a family member wants in terms of their medical care if faced with a serious or life-threatening illness, whether it be COVID-19 or something else. Would your family know what you want in the same situation?

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Dr. Chris Moy, chair of the AMA Ethics Committee is urging people to prepare now for the weeks and months ahead. “Families need to prepare for a time where they may be called upon to make decisions for their loved one who may become suddenly ill with coronavirus. Research tells us that too many families find themselves in the devastating situation of making decisions blindly, without knowing or discussing their loved ones preferences. There is an opportunity to act now,” said Dr. Moy.

According to a report done by in 2017 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, just 56% of people in the U.S. have had a conversation with their loved ones about end-of-life wishes. Only 27% have documented their end-of-life wishes in the form of an advance directive, and less than 20% discussed those wishes with their healthcare provider. This often leaves families in the incredibly difficult position of making life and death decisions on behalf of their sick loved ones. Ideally, one engages in advance care planning before a serious illness or medical crisis ensues. However, the reality is, COVID-19 has taken away our control over many things, including, possibly, our final days.

We know these conversations can be very challenging, but being prepared can also provide individuals and families peace-of-mind. Best-case scenario is that these plans will not be needed.

With life coming to a near standstill right now, this is a great time to have these important conversations with the people who mean the most to you. Having these discussions before a crisis is not only much easier, it is much more valuable. By talking about the end-of-life while people are still healthy, you will have made a significant contribution to your family, and you will discover important information. While these conversations are not always easy, they are important, especially now.

What is advance care planning?

Advance care planning is making decisions about the medical interventions you would want if you were facing a medical crisis, whether it is COVID-19 or something entirely different. These are your decisions to make based on your personal values, goals, and preferences. It includes selecting someone to speak on your behalf about your wishes, should you no longer be able to speak for yourself.

Advance care planning is a gift to your loved ones, and includes:

Getting information on the types of life-sustaining treatments that are available.

Deciding what types of treatment you would or would not want, should you be diagnosed with a life-limiting illness.

Sharing your personal values with your loved ones.

Completing advance directives to put into writing what types of treatment you would or would not want — and who you choose to speak for you — should you be unable to speak for yourself.

Talking with your doctor or healthcare providers about your end-of-life wishes is another discussion to have before a crisis occurs. Chances are that he or she is waiting for you to start the conversation. Make sure your doctor is willing to follow your directives and has a copy of your directive, which includes the name and phone number of your appointed healthcare agent.

Where do I start?

There are several ways to make your healthcare wishes known. One of the best tools we recommend at Hospice of the Foothills is the “Five Wishes” document. The “Five Wishes” health-care directive is easy to understand and guides you through these important choices:

My wish for the person I want to make my health care decisions for me when I can’t make them for myself.

My wish for the kind of medical treatment I want or don’t want.

My wish for how comfortable I want to be.

My wish for how I want people to treat me.

My wish for what I want my loved ones and health care team to know.

To get a copy of Five Wishes at no cost, call Hospice of the Foothills at 530-274-5180, or email your name and address to kdonahue@hofo.org and we will mail one to you. If you have any questions when completing the form, we welcome your call.

Mary Anne Davis is marketing/event manager at Hospice of the Foothills.


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