Planning ahead of Death

The sudden and unexpected death of a friend certainly confronts one with the spectre of one’s own mortality. If a friend can suddenly die without warning, then the same can happen to oneself. It is a reminder that we should prepare ourselves for the possibility of our own death and the life we wish to live before the death and its prequel; to think about Living Wills or Advance Care Plans.

The number of people, young or old, living on their own, separated from children and family, is a common situation. Whatever our age, there is always a chance that we may become incapacitated due to accident or illness. At the same time our mortality rates are higher as is the chance of health complications as we get older. Medical science has become cleverer at protecting us from death with little regard to the life we may wish to live. Unfortunately, neither medical science nor society is very good at offering quality life for people, medically, physically or psychologically disabled, should they become infirm and dependent.

A question we have to ask ourselves is: what happens if a major health event leaves us incapacitated and/or on life support? Friends may know how we want to live and that a vegetative state had not been a life plan. Medical personal however, are held by their professional oaths and if the body is still alive, a person is kept safe from stalking death. In this situation the knowledge of a friend or relative about what treatment and quality of life you might have wanted is useless.

The book, Dora B: a memoir of my mother by Josiane Behmoiras confronts the reader with this dilemma. It is a fascinating read of a feisty woman, somewhat paranoid and different and the relationship between mother and daughter. After Josiane immigrated to Australia, Dora spent the latter part of her life living on the streets of Tel Aviv having suffered years of bullying neighbours and landlords in the newly established post-war Israel that is far from utopian. Josiane could not convince her mother to consult with a doctor in order to obtain the required medical clearance that would enable her to join her in Australia.

Dora became ill and authorities placed her in an aged care facility. This did nothing for her health, either physical or mental. The consulting doctor wished to undertake exploratory surgery for a suspected abdominal growth. Josiane tried to dissuade her arguing that her mother was eighty-eight, had an overwhelming fear of doctors and medical procedures and that an admission to a hospital would be her worst nightmare. “Why,” she asked, “terrorise her?” The doctor replied: “We are here to save people, not to let them die.”

Please God, I prayed as I read this chilling paragraph, let no doctor treat me and my wishes so callously and promptly reached out to review my Living Will and Advance Care Plan.

It seems strange that we have so much choice but increasingly less freedom to make the choices to suit our individual needs and wishes. Bureaucratic regulations govern both us and the institutions that serve us with the result that we are often disempowered. Regulations, their masters and their servants choose for us. The only thing that we can do is find ways of very clearly stating how we would want to be treated should we become incapable of making decisions. It is important for us as well as family and friends and provides guidance to medical personnel.

Karen Detering of Advance Care Planning Australia encourages people to visit their website, to talk to people about their intentions and wishes, to appoint a substitute decision-maker, and to formalise the plan because of the very real danger of being over-ridden by treating medical professions. Creating a plan helps to empower and prepare each of us, our families, friends, carers and health professionals. Hopefully, too, it reduces anxiety and improves outcomes for all involved. It is worth going to the website where fact sheets, forms and information are easily downloaded. No doubt other countries have similar organisations and websites.

Yes, it is confronting to think about such things but it surely must be less confronting to have something in place than to find yourself in the hands of people who don’t know you, or if they do, are powerless to influence decisions others may make on your behalf.


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