Monday, 18 July 2011

A matter of life and death

Have you ever thought about your end-of-life decisions?

You may not want to, but I've worked in hospital chaplaincy, and I know it's something you need to not just think about, but to talk about as well.

I used to believe that an Advanced Health Directive - a legal document setting out the individual's personal preferences around the end of life - was a great idea. Then I went to a bioethics seminar, where the speaker pointed out the drawbacks of AHDs: that they were legally binding, but no-one could foresee all eventualities in preparing it and so it could actually end up forcing medical staff to do things the patient wouldn't want.

A much better idea is to make sure you appoint someone to make your decisions for you when you are unable to make your own choices. This person should be very clear that their responsibility is to make the decision you would want - not what they would want in the situation. They should be someone who knows you very well, knows your religious and ethical beliefs about life and death, knows your position on practical issues like the difference between prolonging life and prolonging death, and whether you want to donate your organs.

While you're thinking about all of this, you also need to think about your will. If you made a will forever ago, remember that major life events such as marriage, divorce, family births and deaths can affect your will. You need to check every few years whether it needs to be updated.

As soon as I was diagnosed, I made my will. Since then, I've had several conversation with family and friends - everyone who might in any way be consulted - about my end-of-life preferences.

This is one of the few advantages of having a chronic illness: knowing that I need to get these things in order.

Having been a hospital chaplain, having seen what happens to families around a death-bed, let me assure you that if you care at all for your loved ones, you need to do the same things. The overwhelming feeling felt by family members who don't know the patient's wishes is guilt: they are given difficult choices, and if they can't say for sure what the patient would want, they feel guilty about whatever they decide.

Do your family a favour: talk to them about life support machines, resuscitation, and organ donation.


  1. I wasnt sure if we could donate organs .mine are mostly effected by lupus and yes I did this with a friend .great article and advise .we all need to think and talk about it .. we never know when our time comes also There is a Gensis in memphis Tenn they pay for your body for research a friend of mine wanted that and so he did when he pasted away have more info later I can send you also .for state side .. but they are awesome and pay for every thing for the research I deff want that done on me . already arranged .. thanks for the article and the thoughts . Sincerely Susan

  2. I can relate to the above post. My dear friend Phillip went to Gensis in Tenn for research and study. They are great. I also have planned that and hopefully the research can help some one in the future if not a cure. They are great!


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