Because my mother is reaching the end of her life, my family has spent time discussing living wills and what constitutes a terminal condition legally and ethically. In the advanced health care directive that I have signed, the definition is as follows: "A terminal condition means an incurable and irreversible condition caused by injury, disease or illness, that would within reasonable medical judgment cause death within a reasonable period of time in accordance with accepted medical standards, and where application of life-sustaining treatment would serve only to prolong the process of dying."
And life-sustaining treatment is defined in part as follows: "to include, without limitation, any medical or surgical treatment, procedure or intervention that uses mechanical or artificial means, including but not limited to hydration, artificial respiration and cardiac resuscitation."
These are wrenching decisions for families. No matter your age, it is much more preferable to make your wishes known by having an appropriate living will. Importantly, assign a relative or close friend who will become responsible for decisions if you are unable to do so yourself.
Without a living will and if the family cannot agree, the health care system may have no choice but to be unduly aggressive. This can be prevented if all family members know of their parent's wishes and if there is total consensus on the treatment plan.
If this is accomplished, recriminations and regrets will be avoided.
Involve your physician in the decision-making process, become as knowledgeable as possible about the illness and its prognosis and consider what you would want done were you in your loved one's condition.
Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book "Breaking the Rules of Aging." To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. More information is available at: www.DrDavidHealth.com.
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