Health Column: Deciding your approach to death |

Health Column: Deciding your approach to death

Roger Shenkel, M.D.
Special to the Free Press

Medical people tend to make different choices as they approach death when compared to the general public. Several recent articles about “Why Doctors Die Differently” have appeared in both the medical and the lay literature recently. Issues where the differences are greatest involve cardiopulmonary resuscitation, futile life support, and procedures that prolong dying.

If doctors make such choices given what they know and have seen, perhaps you should get a bit more information before it is time for you to die.

Many people choose not to get such information, let alone discuss their plans with family members. At times, family members object to having such discussions. For those of you who would like to benefit from what your doctor knows, here are some suggestions.

Do not wait until you are about to die to make these decisions. You likely will not be thinking straight then.

Have a discussion with your personal physician and solicit his/her help with any of this. Find out his/her perspective on dying and decide what you want or do not want for yourself. Once you have decided, let your physician know of your expectations. Complete and record the documents that will maximize the chance for your wishes to be carried out. Your personal physician can help you with this, and there is a website with the M.O.S.T form for your use. (Google M.O.S.T. form Colorado.)

Move beyond a blind reluctance to initiate discussion with those family members closest to you, particularly your spouse and children. Once you break the ice, you will be surprised how easy the conversation becomes.

It is not fair to your family to leave them with no idea of what your desires are, and you need to give them a chance to discuss your choices with you so they will better understand your thought process.

Tell your family you are fine with their using hospice to help protect you from unintended misadventures as you become ill. It will be important for you to introduce the word “hospice” to the conversation.

If you do not have a personal physician, you may want to find one and give him/her a chance to get to know you long before you are terminal.

Decide who will call the shots when (not if) you are no longer able to make decisions.

We all get the opportunity to die, and it is a big life event. Do not hesitate to address dying as thoroughly and effectively as you would deal with much less important issues.

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