An Opinion piece was recently was published in the New York Times by Theresa Brown entitled, How to Make Doctors Think About Death. It was a great piece and right on target. It discusses how often physicians are, out of habit, treating symptoms without seeing the big picture in a dying patient. It can be difficult for the physician to admit s/he has run out of options and there’s nothing left to do.
Here is an excerpt from Ms. Brown’s Opinion:
“It made sense to switch him to “comfort measures”: to focus on alleviating his suffering rather than curing him. It would also make sense to have general treatment guidelines for situations like this, guidelines to indicate when comfort, not cure, is most appropriate. But no such guidelines exist.”
The sad truth is that no such guidelines exist for physicians. However, guidelines do exist for patients! The other sad truth is that most patients don’t know it. They follow suggestions and prescriptions and trials and more trials even in the face of their oncoming demise. Everyone wants to think the next great idea will be the one to pull the patient back from the brink of death into a life full of meaning and options again. This is rarely the case.
At End of Life Choices California, we believe in planning ahead for such a situation. In addition to the Advance Care Planning documents we have provided on our website,we also offer information and advice about how to specify exactly what you want and don’t want at end of life. We all need to be specific about our wishes, discuss them and write them down. EOLCCA is available to help individuals as well as provide information about advance care planning to community groups and other organizations.
We DO have options at the end of life. We do have choice. We just need to know about it.
Please take the time to educate yourself, talk with your physician, talk with your family. It matters not whether you are young or old, sick or well. All adults should think about this and write down their preferences. We will not live forever and none of us knows how the end will come. Every day is a gift, so be sure your loved ones know what your ending looks like, should it come as a surprise or as an expected outcome of disease.