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Planning for End-of-Life Care

Why should you consider advance care planning?

Consider this situation: You become suddenly ill or injured. You are getting all the medical treatments needed to keep you alive, and your doctors believe there is little chance you will be able to know who you are or know those around you.

  • Who would make your decisions for you?
  • What would you want the goals of your care to be?
  • What kinds of treatments would you want continued or stopped?
  • How could you help others make these decisions?

This isn’t an easy topic to discuss but, while we don’t want to die, we also don’t want to suffer by receiving treatments that won’t benefit us. Advance care planning gives you the opportunity to engage in conversations that help you explore and consider how your values and goals can shape your treatment preferences when you can no longer express your wishes. It’s the most effective way to make your health care wishes clearly known.

One study found that 70.3 percent of participants over 60 years old were unable to make necessary treatment decisions near the end of life. Evidence suggests that those who must make decisions for others are much more comfortable when they know what the person would have decided. Your advance care plan is, in some ways, a gift to the person you designate to make your health care decisions if you are unable to do so. It is the gift of your voice, your wishes and your preferences to give them peace of mind in a difficult time.

Who should have an advance care plan?

All adults should have an advance care plan. Even young, healthy people benefit from an ACP. An unexpected accident can occur and a health care agent could be required to make treatment decisions. A health care directive (also called an advance directive or a living will) is a document that identifies a person’s chosen health care agent and includes information about treatment preferences. As a person ages and possibly develops life-limiting illness, advance care plans may include more specific information about your treatment preferences.

Is a conversation an important part of advance care planning?

Yes. The more your agent and others who care about you know about your values, goals and preferences, the more likely they are to ensure that those preferences are honored. A written document can express some things, but does not always cover every possible situation that may arise. Conversation allows others to fully understand what is important to you so they can advocate for you most successfully during potentially difficult times. The conversation is at the heart of what makes advance care planning helpful for you and your decision makers, reflecting your goals and values for your health care.

How can I talk to someone else about starting an advance care planning process?

Asking that person, “Mom, if something happened and you were too sick to make your own medical decisions, who will make them for you?” is a place to start. The Honoring Choices website and Bemidji’s ACP facilitators also have some suggestions about how to invite another to ACP.