Consider this : If you become terminally ill, and your heart stops, do you want to be resuscitated? If your partner is in a horrific accident which leaves him brain dead, will he want to be kept alive by machines? When your mother dies, does she want her organs to be donated?
These are awkward questions, dreadful even, and none of us want to think about these things, especially when we are relatively young and healthy. But it's much better to address the issues surrounding death, before we become too ill or incapacitated to make our wishes known. And better for us to discuss the wishes of our parents and other loved ones too. If we know what they want when the time comes, difficult decisions become much easier.
The Conversation Project is a US based initiative dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end of life care. Their Conversation Starter Kit is a good place to begin if you are getting ready to talk about what you want, or you want to help someone else get ready to share their wishes. The kit includes prompts to help you consider potential scenarios and ice breakers for starting the conversation once you have thought things through.
In Australia, this process of preparing for end of life care is known as Advance Care Planning. Advance Care Planning is becoming more common, particularly among older Australians. Advance care planning involves talking with friends and loved ones about future health care wishes and formally documenting what you may or may not want. This ensures that you have a say in your medical care, even if you become too sick to speak for yourself, and it takes the burden of difficult decision making away from loved ones.
An Advance Care Directive (ACD), sometimes called a ‘living will’, is a document that describes future preferences for medical treatment in anticipation of a time when you are unable to express those preferences. An ACD can be prepared in consultation with a doctor and usually involves the appointment of a substitute decision maker, a trusted friend or relative, who can make health care decisions for you if you are too unwell to do this for yourself.
The requirements for acceptable Advance Care Directives vary from state to state but relevant information and downloadable documents are available on the Advance Care Planning website.
The conversations which need to happen before an Advance Care Directive is prepared are difficult and delicate. Take your time. Think about what you value most and how you want to live at the end of your life. Considering these things will help you get ready to have the conversation.