If a loved one is in poor or failing health, discussions concerning their final wishes can often be uncomfortable for loved ones. However, it is very important that these wishes are carried with respect to the person’s desires.
The subject of living wills and advance directives can be a sensitive one for many families, and rightfully so. Advance directives are explicit written instructions that detail a person’s medical care preferences if they are no longer able to speak for themselves. These directives are prepared in advance of a major health event to ensure a person’s wishes are carried out.
What is a Living Will?
By contrast to an advance directive, the concept of a living will concerns an individual’s ultimate decision when it comes to matters of their final care. It is a written, legal document that discusses what medical treatments are acceptable to a person and which measures they find acceptable to prolong their life if incapacitated. These living wills outline what conditions are acceptable to a person and what conditions are not. Unless affirmed, many children and primary care providers are left in the dark regarding what to do. In a high-pressure, emotionally charged situation such as this, many loved ones are afraid they are making the wrong choice.
Living Will vs. Advance Directives
The burden of choosing whether to end a loved one’s life by terminating care is easily one of the most taxing, but with a living will in place there is no room for doubt. As uncomfortable as this conversation may be, it is the responsibility of loved ones caring for an older adult to be sure to ask the right questions. Asking these questions as soon as possible, while an older loved one is still in a right frame of mind, will help to ensure his or her wishes are carried out.
Make sure the mood and environment is right before delving into discussion of advance directives, because the goal is to not upset your loved one but inform of its importance and your wish to respect his or her wishes. The phrase “quality of life” has different meanings for everyone, and the only way to understand how your loved one perceives it is by asking them.
Questions like “What do you consider to be a life for you?”, “Do you want to consider the use of an artificial breathing machine to continue?” and “What level of disability and/or discomfort do you wish to endure?” are essential for establishing a clear, definable advance directive.
Another important factor to keep in mind is the medical power of attorney, who is authorized to make decisions on your or your loved one’s behalf when they cannot. A person who is not legally married will need to state who they wish this individual to be. It should be someone who he or she can fully trust. These are the types of situations where family discontent can arise, but it is important to remember that regardless of how you may feel about the situation, it is your loved one’s decision to make and everyone should fully respect it for what it is.
Lastly, a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or order is the final component of most advance directives, but it need not be included. Upon you or your loved one’s request, this states that cardiopulmonary resuscitation if off limits in the event that the heart stops beating or that breathing ceases to exist. If this is an option, it is important to hire a living will attorney to finalize and legalize the advance directive.
When did you decide the right time was for you and your loved one to discuss living wills? Share with us in the comments below.