Lost in the continuing debate over what’s really included in the Affordable Care Act is a topic of vital, but woefully misunderstood importance. End-of-life planning is a conversation every American should have with their loved ones and health care providers. Too few get around to having this important dialogue before it’s too late.
And we fear even fewer want to enter into a serious discussion on the subject after hearing all the nonsense about “death panels.” It’s essential your family and physicians know your wishes for end-of-life treatment. These dialogues, along with living wills and durable power of attorney, speak for you when you are no longer able to communicate with your health care providers.
Opponents to President Obama’s health care act do no favors to the truth when they continue to assert the law would require ailing seniors to be counseled on suicide as an option to saving tax dollars for Medicare. This is pure bunk. The health care reform act actually calls for Medicare to pay for some end-of-life planning counseling sessions (to prepare living wills and such) with health care professionals.
The sessions would be entirely voluntary and strictly between doctor and patient. No committees, no death panels and no required outcomes.
A patient might tell his doctor to keep him alive at all costs. Or not. The important thing is the patient makes it clear to his or her doctors and loved ones their wishes for such difficult matters as intravenous feeding, CPR and ventilation.
End of life planning should be something that delivers peace of mind to patients and spares their family from the stress and anxiety of guessing about the end-of-life wishes of their loved ones.
The best time to talk about a living will is before you have a life-threatening illness or injury. It’s important you talk with your doctor, friends and family about your wishes. Then, when you are certain about your decision, sign a living will that can be downloaded from various websites on the Internet.
You should also give copies of your living will to family members, your doctors and others who would be responsible for seeing to your wishes. If your doctor does not want to follow your living will, he is required to find you another physician.
It is also essential that you keep a copy of your living will with your important papers in a place that is easily accessible to your family. A person may cancel or change his living will at any time orally or in writing.
In addition to a living will, it is also a good idea to have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This legal contract gives a specific person the responsibility to make decisions for you when you are too sick to speak, including making sure your living will is carried out.
Again, it is important to make these decisions now. Failing to do so could place an additional burden on your family at a time when they need no additional grief.