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Start Talking About Life's End Well in Advance
Date:4/2/2010

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The conversation, Cooney said, feeds into the development of two documents:

  • An advance directive, also known as a "living will," can spell out as many conditions as you want regarding end-of-life care. "If I'm in this situation, I want these things done or not done," Cooney explained.
  • A health-care proxy, which allows you to name someone to make medical decisions for you once you are incapacitated. "People consider this your most important document," she said. "It's almost impossible to put down on paper every scenario you might face." But a trusted relative or friend who knows you intimately can serve as your proxy and stand up for you, she said.

Once the topics have been discussed, Cooney said, actual documents should be filled out.

Experts also suggest that end-of-life conversations happen regularly, not just once. Repeated conversations can help families become more familiar with their loved ones' wishes. And, of course, people change: What someone told you they wanted five or 10 years ago might not be what they want now.

"This isn't a have-it-once-and-put-it-up-on-a-shelf talk," Cooney said. "This is a talk families should have repeatedly over time."

More information

The National Hospital and Palliative Care Organization has more on end-of-life conversations.



SOURCES: Gail Austin Cooney, M.D, president, American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, medical director, Hospice of Palm Beach County, Fla., and clinical assistant professor, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Fla.; Beverly and Mike Bus, Wellington, Fla.; Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org)


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