Imagine: one day, without any warning, you find yourself in a hospital with a life-threatening illness. You are unable to speak for yourself and you don’t recognize your family or friends. Your doctors don’t think you’ll leave the hospital alive
We all hope to die peacefully, surrounded by loved ones and able to communicate to the end – but the simple fact is that most deaths don’t occur this way. Over 70% of Canadians die in a hospital, and one in five of those deaths occur in an Intensive Care Unit, often while hooked up to numerous machines and isolated from family and friends.
In the above scenario, what would you want? Perhaps you would want the health care team to try everything possible to keep your alive, no matter what your prognosis? Perhaps you feel you’d rather just drift away?
How would the people around you know what to do? Have you told them? Written down your wishes? Have you decided who will speak on your behalf?
Imagine: you are at the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, and you know that at some point you will not be able to recognize people or make your own decisions. How will you make your wishes known? Who will communicate for you?
According to a 2004 poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid on behalf of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and GlaxoSmithKline, 80% of respondents agreed that people should plan for the end of life when they are healthy, and yet 70% of them had not done so themselves.
Health care and life saving technologies continue to improve, and that means that people may live longer, but with complex medical conditions. What are your feelings about medical interventions? What kind of decisions would you want friends or family members to make for you if you cannot speak for yourself?
Imagine: your mother has slipped into a coma – and you and your siblings need to make some decisions about her care.
The responsibility of making medical decisions for another individual can be overwhelming. If you’re a caregiver or a designated decision maker for a family member or friend, you’ll want to know if the person you’re caring for has an advance care plan.
Are you a caregiver or a designated decision maker for someone? Have you talked to them about their wishes for end of life care? Have they made an advance care plan?
These are difficult questions. And the answers are different for everyone.
We need to communicate our feelings around end of life care and what we believe gives life meaning, to ourselves, and to those who are important to us. These are personal, individual choices that every Canadian deserves at the end of life. Make sure your voice is heard.
Sharon Baxter, Executive Director, Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association