Bioethics News

Few Americans Plan For End-of-Life Decisions, Even If They Are Sick

Michael S. Dauber, MA, GBI Visiting Scholar

Many moral dilemmas faced by clinicians, patients, and their families arise when individuals have not made plans for the end of their lives or discussed their wishes with their loved ones. To prevent and mitigate these issues, ethicists have suggested for decades that individuals should complete documents such as advanced directives like living wills (legal documents that indicate one’s wishes for interventions like intubation and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)), and to name a healthcare proxy (an individual to make decisions on one’s behalf in the event one becomes unable). Such measures tend to make it easier for individuals to address moral dilemmas in practice and to determine the ethically appropriate surrogate decision maker for a patient.

According to a recent study published in Health Affairs, few Americans have taken either of these measures. Researchers compiled results from over 150 studies of end-of-life planning measures and determined that only 36.7 percent of those surveyed had completed some sort of advanced directive, with 29.3 percent of those individuals completing living wills and 33 percent empowering a healthcare proxy. The study also found that 42 percent of individuals aged 65 or older had completed some sort of advanced directive, as opposed to 32 percent of individuals younger than 65.

There are several reasons why individuals may be hesitant to complete healthcare proxies. Many young people may feel they can put off decisions about care at the end of their lives because such matters are comparatively unlikely to occur in the short term.

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.