End-of-life conversations: When is the right time?

  • Published: November 28th, 2010
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-by Melissa DelaCalzada

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Recently, CNN did a story on end-of-life conversations and the Thanksgiving holiday gathering being an opportune time to have these important, yet difficult, discussions. Most people would agree that it is important for loved ones to know what their health care wishes are, in the event that they cannot speak for themselves, regardless of their health condition. This is a particularly important discussion for seriously ill patients to have. Yet, most people will also agree that it is a very difficult discussion to take part in, or bring up, at any time.

end-of-life conversationsSo when is the right time to talk about end-of-life care?

One caregiver shared that it is best to discuss health care decision-making before an illness takes place – as what she and her husband did, not knowing that he would be faced with cancer down the road. “Those [end-of-life] conversations are so much easier when you are well, and not facing what turned out to be a 10-year battle with cancer.”

Living with a terminal illness, Vailia Dennis sees making her health care decisions known as living life by her own terms. Vailia asserts, “I don’t want there to be any unknowns, nor do I want my children to bear the burden of making decisions about my care if I am unable to…that’s why an advance directive is so important.”

Advance directive, also known as an advance health care directive, lets your physician, family and friends know your health care preferences in the event that you cannot speak for yourself. These preferences can include types of special treatment you want or don’t want at the end of life, surgical procedures, organ donation, etc.

As the Office of the Attorney General in California suggests, by considering your options early, you can ensure the quality of life that is important to you and avoid having your family “guess” your wishes or having to make critical medical care decisions for you under stress or in emotional turmoil.

So the right time to talk about end-of-life care is any time. Advance health care directives vary by state, so check with your local government agency or health care provider for more information. Other tools such as Five Wishes and the Go Wish Game, offer unique ways to help start the conversation.

Written by mdelacalzada

Communications Executive, Social Media Aficionado, Caregiver Advocate. Currently serves as the Executive Director of Communications and Public Relations at San Diego Hospice and The Institute for Palliative Medicine, a non-profit community-owned healthcare organization since 1977.

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