In April, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation announced survey findings regarding opinions and experiences about end-of-life care and aging. In coordination with The Economist, they poled people in the US and three other countries.
Some of the U.S. findings are startling. For example, only one-quarter of those asked had put their preferences for end-of-life medical treatment in writing.
Of the three-quarters who had not written down their end-of-life treatment wishes, half said they just had not "gotten around to it" and one-quarter had not "considered it."
Seek legal counsel
At our law firm, we regularly help people as part of their overall estate planning to execute legal documents that designate the kinds of medical treatment they want should they become incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate or make their own medical decisions.
These advance medical directives are important when a person faces medical treatment decisions concerning invasive treatment to prolong life.
Advance medical directives
A "living will," called a Declaration as to Medical Treatment under Colorado law, directs a medical provider to provide the treatments you want or do not want should you become unable to communicate your wishes and either face a terminal disease or are in a persistent vegetative state.
In addition, using a document called Medical Durable Power of Attorney in Colorado you can name someone to act as your health care agent with the power to make binding medical decisions for you in case you become incapacitated.
It is never too late -- and also never too early -- to start the decision-making process. The Kaiser survey found that only 10 percent of those asked said they have talked to their medical providers about their end-of-life wishes.
Communication is key
Have a dialog with your treating doctor about these issues so that you can make informed choices. For example, review the kinds of treatments that prolong life and what they mean from a medical standpoint. You may not understand the extent of a particular treatment, the ramifications of doing it or not doing it, or the medical developments that could impact the decision to use it.
In addition, if you have a particular disease like diabetes, kidney failure, epilepsy or another, your medical condition may raise unique medical issues at end of life that your doctor can help you to understand.
Once you understand the treatment decisions and can make them, have a long talk with your close relatives and anyone you may name as a health care agent about your wishes and the reasons for them. This will allow them to make more informed choices for you in accordance with your instructions and wishes, taking pressure off of them in an already difficult situation.
Having medical directives in place is a win-win-win for the patient, for their family and loved ones, and for treating doctors. The patient can be assured that his or her wishes will be honored and are legally binding. Those close to him or her, especially anyone named as an agent, can navigate through the difficult medical decisions they might have to make for you with clear direction from you and the comfort of being able to carry out your wishes. Finally, doctors involved in your treatment can make professional decisions in light of your legal instructions and knowing your personal feelings.
An attorney can answer questions you may have about advance medical directives and assist with their drafting and execution.