Unlike our grandparents’ generation, many of us have had limited exposure to death and dying. However thinking about our own mortality can help prepare us and our family for the inevitable.
As a palliative care doctor, Elizabeth has witnessed hundreds of deaths, supporting patients and families in their final days.
Elizabeth has learned a lot about dying well, and not so well. Here she shares what she’s learned about increasing your odds of dying well.
1. Don’t grow old without a plan
Trust me - you don’t want to be critically ill and sent off to hospital without an Advance Care Directive to guide your care. Get your affairs in order and write the plan! Don’t wait for a crisis.
2. Appoint a substitute-decision maker you can trust
Around 50% of people will be unable to make their own medical decisions at the end of their life. If this happens to you, who will speak for you? Your substitute decision-maker should be able to stay level-headed in a crisis and be prepared to advocate for you. Choose someone you trust to make decisions according to your values, not theirs.
3. Don’t assume doctors know the best treatment for you
Doctors are experts in medicine; we’re not mind-readers. We want to do the right thing, but without clear instructions, we feel bound to save your life. If you haven’t even considered your preferences, how would expect an emergency doctor you’ve never met to make the right call for you?
4. Having a loving family does not guarantee a peaceful end
Bad things happen to great families. I’ve seen the most loving families torn apart because they cannot agree on the best course of action for a family member. Don’t let this happen to your family. Have the conversation over a relaxed family dinner, not in the emergency room at 3am!
5. Speak up and be clear
The key to dying well is living well for as long as possible. Be clear about what matters most. In your final days is it more important that you remain lucid or pain-free? Would you prefer the quiet company of close family or a larger circle of friends? Remember, the most important part of your advance care plan is you. This is your opportunity be heard.
National Advance Care Planning Week is 1 -5 April. Find how you can plan your future health care at acpweek.org.au.
For free advance care planning advice, call 1300 208 582, Mon – Fri (AEST).