The letters to the editor in response to the editorial, “Care at the End of Life,” published by the New York Times on November 24, highlight the increased attention being given to the need to enable individuals to declare end-of-life decisions in advance.
In one letter, Carolyn Conley, a registered nurse with years of experience treating cancer patients, outlined two main advantages for advance directives:
First, it makes it less likely that patients will have unnecessary, unwanted and possibly uncomfortable tests; second, it lifts the burden of medical decision-making from families during a very stressful period, allowing them to spend meaningful time with their loved ones without the additional stress of having to make these difficult choices.
In a second letter, Adina Kay-Gross, who recently lost her father to metastatic lung cancer, wrote of the experience:
Because he was allowed to call the shots, because, when given all the information, he alone chose the circumstances of his death, the end of his life was as loving, as dignified and as human as he was.
We are so grateful that my dad was spared the suffering that no one should have to endure unwillingly.
In today’s world, with a growing number of Americans caring for aging parents, the increased attention to advance care planning is welcome.
But should the focus on advance directives be aimed only at elderly and terminally ill patients?
Interestingly, neither the editorial nor any of the letters to the editor mention the notion of documenting medical wishes earlier in life. After all, no one waits until they’re terminally ill to buy life insurance, or until they’re on their deathbed to think about organ donation.
It’s time to take advance care planning one step further. We should not only be encouraged to decide matters of medical care at the end of our lives, when it may be impossible to communicate our wishes. We should take action to make these tough decisions as we enter adulthood, so that our voices are preserved in all medical situations.