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Thursday, April 07, 2011

End of life planning eases pain, suffering for all

Atlanta Journal Constitution

By John Bishop

If you’ve ever tried to talk with teenagers about drugs or sex, you know how difficult it is to broach a sensitive topic with a loved one.

But as difficult as these conversations are, there’s one that’s even tougher.

According to a national survey by the National Healthcare Decisions Day coalition, Americans are less likely to talk to a seriously-ill parent about their end-of-life wishes than they are to have the birds and the bees or “just say no” talks with their kids.

It’s no surprise that people avoid talking about the end of life. But it’s a conversation that’s too important to dismiss.

In the past five years, four out of 10 Americans had a friend or relative suffer from a terminal illness or go into a coma. Most of them had to deal with the medical crisis along with the issue of withholding life-sustaining treatment.

Unfortunately, waiting until there’s a medical emergency is often too late. At that point, many patients are unable to communicate their wishes.

But it’s not that they haven’t thought about it. According to a Pew Research Center study — 71 percent of Americans have considered their end-of-life treatment preferences. The problem — they haven’t communicated them to loved ones or to doctors.

That’s why April 16 next week is designated as National Healthcare Decisions Day — a time to encourage everyone to think, talk about and document your wishes with an advance directive.

It lets you name someone to speak for you if you’re unable. It also spells out what types of treatments you do or don’t want and when to choose other options such as hospice care, which focuses on improving the quality of terminally ill patients’ lives until the end.

An advance directive can be completed without hiring a lawyer. It’s easy to do and it’s free.

More than 1,000 local, state and national organizations — including Crossroads Hospice in Tucker — are participating in National Healthcare Decisions Day. Many will be wearing white ribbons — a reminder for everyone to take the first step in talking about end-of-life issues.

While public discussion around end-of-life care has certainly increased, the fact remains that only one in four Americans has completed an advance directive.

On April 16, I encourage you to visit nationalhealthcaredecisionsday.org, where you’ll find free advance directives forms for every state, along with other resources.

The simple act of expressing your wishes on paper can turn out to be an incredible gift for your family. When the time comes, they won’t face panic or indecision in regard to your care. Rather, they’ll be there to celebrate a lifetime of love and happy memories.

John Bishop is the executive director of Crossroads Hospice in Tucker.

www.ajc.com

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