Life Choices: Why We All Need Personal Directives

I read an article entitled ‘Why Dying is Easier for Doctors’ which discussed a physician who chose not to undergo treatment for his terminal illness. This is a timely article because I am close to a family with a loved one who was diagnosed with terminal cancer less than a week ago.

The family member directly involved with the decision process for the loved one is non-medical and is totally overwhelmed with the information overload presented by the treatment process (lab results, tests and critical patient choices). She has to rely upon the information provided by the medical professionals and hopes to develop some sort of action plan for the loved one with terminal cancer.

The treatment plan includes possible radiation and chemotherapy for a woman in her 80s with advanced cancer, along with numerous previous health challenges.

The doctors’ article provided an entirely different approach to terminal illness because the doctor in the article chose quality of life over an extended lifespan. To have a doctor write about a doctor who chose not to include any treatment intervention for his terminal illness is a very telling scenario.

As an RN, I have viewed occasions where “heroic measures” are done, only to have the patient’s outcome be less than it was before the intervention. That was the message delivered by the doctor’s choice to forsake treatment in the article.

However, family members of the loved ones with terminal illness are understandably driven by pure emotion and want to have their loved ones around for as long as possible. The sad part about the decision to prolong a life by any means may mean a significant drop in quality of life and a very rough scenario for the family to witness during their loved one’s last days.

The effects of chemotherapy as a last ditch effort can be highly disturbing because the traumatic physical changes and extreme nausea may add more stress to the person’s already overstressed body.

Another example of tough decisions occurs when a person is a senior and undergoes CPR. The result can be broken ribs, incredible pain, little hope of healing, and a substantially reduced quality of life.

I encourage people to read the doctor’s article and I also advise everyone, no matter what age, to have a Personal Directive. A Personal Directive will give a person the right to choose his or her treatment program-or to choose no treatment in a terminal situation.

Death is a fact of life, and the loved one in my article went into a comatose state without a Personal Directive. Consequently, a family member was placed in a situation where she worried about “making the wrong decision” in an incredibly tough scenario where she did not understand all of the components in play with the loved one’s status.

Fortunately, the loved one survived and another family member was also able to discuss future options with the medical team. It was a close call, one that I have seen many times during my nursing career, and it speaks to the urgency for all of us to have a Personal Directive.

Most health information sites can provide information about Personal Directives and many sites have the appropriate legal forms for a download. Death and dying are not easy topics for most people to discuss, but they are a part of everyone’s life. To have as much done as possible ahead of time for your loved ones will ensure that there is less stress for them and more of a voice for you in any medical situation where you cannot speak for yourself. You can make the decisions in a tough situation with a Personal Directive.

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