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What’s More Difficult Than Talking About the End of Life? Not Talking About It.
By Evalisa McClure

If something happened to you tomorrow—say a terrible car accident, a stroke that left you unable to communicate, or the discovery of a rapidly developing brain tumor—would the people close to you know how to answer a doctor’s questions about your care?

  • Did she ever tell you how she felt about being on a ventilator?
  • Does he have a do-not-resuscitate order … or should we take all reasonable measures to keep him alive?
  • Do we have your permission to insert a feeding tube?
  • What readings and music does she want at her funeral? Burial or cremation?

The end of life, of course, is never certain, but your wishes about it should be—and they should be discussed, documented and shared with the people who might have to decide for you if you are incapacitated or unable to communicate.

VITAS Healthcare has specialized in end-of-life care for more than 40 years, so we know the importance of having heartfelt conversations with your medical team, your spouse/partner, family members and caregiver(s) about end-of-life wishes. Every April 16 is National Healthcare Decision Day, and VITAS suggests a simple three-stage approach to having the conversation now, while you are in good health: Talk About It, Write It Down, Share It.

Talk About It: Make a conscious effort to have the difficult-but-necessary conversation. Schedule a time and invite people who need to participate. Discuss issues openly and honestly. Make sure others understand your end-of-life preferences—and why.

Write It Down: Fill out an advance directive, which is a living will or Five Wishes document that spells out the types of care you want—and do not want—near the end of life. Designate someone as your durable power of attorney (POA) for healthcare decisions. This person might not be your closest relative, but rather someone who will remain clear-headed and calm in a crisis.

Share It: Distribute copies of your advance directive, living will and POA to anyone who might be involved in decisions about your care, including your doctor(s). Provide an extra copy to be included in your patient chart.

According to surveys, about 90% of people agree it’s important to talk about end-of-life wishes. Yet only about 33% do. Having the conversation now—before there’s a crisis—spares your medical team, family members and healthcare proxies the anguish and possible disagreements that can arise if they have no clue about your preferences, concerns and opinions.

The most difficult conversation, in fact, might be the most important one you’ll ever have.

Evalisa McClure is general manager of VITAS Healthcare in Pittsburgh. For more information about end-of-life care options, call VITAS Healthcare at (866) 759-6695 or visit VITAS.com.

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