Why is it that Americans seem to be the only people on the planet who live their lives as though death were an optional event? For many of us who have worked for years helping families and clinicians grapple with difficult choices in “shared decision making,” we’ve been challenged by that convention despite the evidence that 75% of us claim that preparing a living will and appointing a healthcare proxy are critically important. Yet fewer than one third of us do anything to make it happen.
Perhaps it’s our willing adherence to myths; most notably our believing that when the time comes, we’ll know, and we’ll have time to get our affairs in order, making our wishes known. This “just-in-time” approach may be comforting but, in reality, it’s magical thinking. For most of us, the “right time” never comes, but the crisis does. Believing in a scenario that we’ll luck into a peaceful passing without ever having so much as an uncomfortable conversation with anyone doesn’t support the reality that 80% of us will eventually rely on a proxy to make decisions for us.
Beyond “Just in Time”
So, how do we prepare for the realities of dying? First, name someone to speak for you when you cannot speak for yourself. But don’t stop there. Talk with that person about what matters most to you. Proxies need to be ready to respond to uncertainties, in a way that you would. Commit to ongoing conversations with loved ones and health providers, so your values and preferences are truly “shared.”
On July 8, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid proposed new rules to pay for these conversations beginning January 2016. If all goes as planned, Medicare will begin reimbursing providers for engaging in these discussions.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.