Jun 5 2012

The Importance of Discussing End-Of-Life Care Early

If you’re a newlywed or a young person in a long-term relationship, end-of-life care probably isn’t on the shortlist of things you’re thinking about or addressing with your partner.

But it should be.

Yes, it’s an unpleasant topic. But not knowing what a loved one thinks about their preferences at the end of life – whenever it comes – is a whole lot more challenging. In fact, it can even be tough when the topic comes up, but there’s no official document outlining what the dying person would have wanted.

Time’s Joe Klein described his personal challenge with his parents:

I’ve spent quite a bit of time with my elderly parents–they’re both 89 and have been together since the age of 5–trying to help them steer their way through some difficult decisions, and trying to guarantee that their decisions about the rest of their lives will be honored, even if they have lost the ability to announce those decisions themselves. This isn’t easy. My mother and her two sisters are quite frail and entirely dependent on my father, who has made no specific plans about what should happen to them should he lose the ability to take care of them. He has a living will, he thinks. My mother has often said that if she becomes severely debilitated, “Just let me die.” But I’m not sure she has made that clear in a legal document. My father is reluctant to talk about these sensitive subjects and has resisted signing a power of attorney, to be activated if he becomes incapacitated.

Though the post is from 2009, it’s still very relevant today. So much so, that Klein elaborated on the experience of dealing with his parents’ end-of-life care in this week’sTimemagazine cover story. The piece is behind a pay wall, but here’s a video of Klein discussing his experience:

As part of its exploration into this topic, Timealso put together five useful tips for families dealing with end-of-life care.

Not surprisingly tip #1 focuses on having the conversation early – before anything happens. “Make sure family members designate who they want as their health care agent if they cannot make medical decisions on their own and need someone to speak on their behalf” the post advises.

Just about everyone needs help finding the words to talk to family and friends, doctors and caregivers, and their healthcare agent about advance medical directives, living wills and end-of-life wishes. For ideas on how to get started with the conversation now, visit the MyDirectives discussion guide.


Advance Directives Caregiving Joe Klein TIME

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