To the editor:
Listen, my fellow 80-year-olds.
It is time to begin a national conversation on choices toward the end of life. Surely it is time, and let it begin with us, not with the politicians.
Despite the popular American view that perhaps we can live forever, we can’t. So the decisions we make between now and then are important. Here are some questions to help you get started thinking about those decisions.
How many of us have had a conversation with our family, our doctor, or others close to us about our wishes for the last weeks or months of our lives. Maybe some of us might have made out a living will or a healthcare proxy, but where is it? Is it locked up in the lawyer’s office when it is needed in the emergency room? Even more importantly, does our family understand our wishes?
Unfortunately, all too often, procedures are done for the benefit of the family because we did not begin the conversation when we had the chance. Because of our inaction, our family is standing around in the ER, often in disagreement, having to make these decisions for us. Often they cannot agree, so the doctor continues with interventions, doing what he/she can to “save” the situation.
The good news is that we are in a position now, today, to make all our loved ones understand our wishes and avoid this scenario.
We can choose now to focus on the option of palliative care. This care, usually at home, focuses on comfort in contrast to cure. This is becoming increasingly popular these days, opting for comfort when cure is not possible.
Putting us old folks through a whole lot of high-tech procedures when the outlook is poor makes no sense. Not only do these interventions at the end of life make no sense financially, but they can rob the elderly of innate dignity. Wouldn’t we prefer to be made comfortable in our own beds with kind and competent caregivers with control of pain and discomfort?
Think about it, talk to your family and your friends, and your doctor. Act to take charge of your future.
Don’t, by your inaction, force your next of kin to make these possible poor and expensive decisions about your care at the last minute.
SARAH ANN HACKET, RN, MPH