Advance Care Planning
Today, advances in medicine and medical technology save lives that only 60 years ago might have been lost. Unfortunately, sometimes this same technology also artificially prolongs life for people who have no reasonable hope of recovery. As our population ages and medical technologies continue to evolve, discussions about what kind of care we want at the end of life are increasingly important. Confusion about what medical choices to make for a person who cannot communicate his wishes can make an already challenging situation worse.
It happens more often than we would like to think. In 2006, the Pew Research Center reported that 42 percent of Americans have had a friend or relative suffer from a terminal illness or coma in the last five years, and for a majority of these people, the question of withholding life-sustaining treatment came up.
The best time for an individual to make end-of-life decisions is when he is healthy, long before those decisions are needed. Advance care planning is more than just securing the proper legal documents. It requires research, preparing and talking to family members and friends, so that health decisions are made in a manner consistent with what a person wants. Such planning will give loved ones the guidance they need when making difficult decisions about end-of-life care, ensuring that an individual's wishes are known and followed, if he cannot communicate those choices himself.
Advance care planning is not just about end-of-life care. It is a process to document how a person would like to be treated in case he is not able to express his wishes. The plan can include anything from dietary preferences to sleep and awake times, as well as end-of-life decisions.