We spend much of our time and energy creating a meaningful life, but what about a meaningful end-of-life? Faith leaders are a resource for providing guidance on how to think about one’s end-of-life, which can influence our choices for end-of-life care. Different faiths have different approaches to end-of-life, as shown in the Pew Research here. While some turn to religious leaders, perception within many faith communities is that “congregants harbor beliefs, perceptions, and feelings about death and dying that were often not communicated to family members or to health providers.” Having those wishes and values shared means they can also be honored.
During Arizona’s Healthcare Decisions Month we are highlighting the importance of sharing those details. Here’s a piece from Joy L. Smith, M.A., Board Certified Chaplain at Havasu Regional Medical Center. She shares what she has witnessed and her own personal wishes:
“During a trauma or code wherein a patient’s life is in jeopardy, a chaplain is called to assist the medical team. It is a chaplain’s job is to ask the supervising nurse, “Does the patient have a DNR?” Immediately, the nurse checks the patient’s chart. If a DNR is worded in such a way as to indicate the patient does not want “everything done,” the supervisor quickly calls a halt to doing everything possible to save the patient’s life. The patient is allowed to die.
The process is entirely different, however, when there is no living will and there is no chaplain, no loved one or representative to publicize the fact there is a living will, or to indicate the existence of a DNR. That patient may be gravely impaired, in face “everything possible” was done and breathing ability is restored . . . now, in many instances, years more may come with the patient facing such losses as no right-thinking person wants. Family resources are drained due to long-term care for a person who simply did not consider this ever happening to her or him. Consequently, no end-of-life documents were in place and the voice of the patient could not be heard.
Personally, I am certain not to want “everything done” perchance that keeps me alive beyond when I have stopped breathing. This is why having a DNR in place along with a Living Will and a Healthcare Power of Attorney indicating who will be my advocate, is a must. That person will be my dear husband, Gary, who knows exactly what I want. At my time of death, I want “comfort care,” and nothing else. I will die with a great degree of gratitude for having lived so long. “It is enough,” my heart will say.”
Below is a piece from Rabbi Koppell regarding her personal experience with the importance of sharing end-of-life care choices with her loved ones:
“As a rabbi, I have a first-hand look at good and terrible deaths. My most powerful personal experience was watching my husband struggle with metastatic renal cell carcinoma in his bones; he passed away 19 May 2015. He failed on one chemo drug and then another, and endured unendurable pain as his bones crumbled. He lived his final 8 months on a feeding tube. Fortunately we had health care advance directives that we had prepared well in advance of his becoming ill, yet, we never understood the gravity of his illness or the imminence of his death when it occurred.”
It always seems too early to have the conversation, but sharing your end-of-life care wishes should be done before a health crisis occurs. AzHHA is committed to improving the quality of conversations people in our community are having about end-of-life care and increasing the documentation of those wishes so they can be honored. To that end, we provide education across Arizona to clergy and healthcare professionals about how to have the conversations, but we also provide training to the general public about advance care planning.
Share with us in the comments below what your experience has been as you think about your own end-of-life care wishes and how the conversations have gone as you share your thoughts with others.