The Unintended Consequences Of Avoiding End Of Life Planning

2011-09-29 | |
Last updated: 2011-09-29

Talking about death is one those activities that can make even the most talkative extrovert become quiet and uncomfortable. So if we have trouble talking about it, then it is no surprise that planning for death is one of those activities that too many of us choose to bypass. Our inclination to avoid the uncomfortable is made clear by statistics showing that roughly 58% of Americans do not even have a will.

While these specific numbers may focus more on our disinterest in planning how our hard-earned life savings will be distributed, we also fail to plan at a more personal level. Too few people living with terminal illness even plan for end of life. As a result, the tendency to avoid these difficult discussions and planning activities results in many individuals not living their final days the way that they would like.

Changing End Of Life Treatment Is Difficult

An often-quoted statistic is that roughly one third of the money spent on health care goes toward treating people in their last year of life. Much of this money goes into very expensive treatments that only provide incremental increases in life expectancy. However, if someone in a position of power even entertains discussions about changing the way end-of-life treatment is delivered, the specter of rationed health care quickly arises.

Few of us trust someone else to decide how many resources will be used to treat us and thus how long we will live so changing the way end-of-life treatment is delivered is frequently seen as a threat.

While this is an understandable gut reaction given the finality of death, it is not a constructive way to approach end of life issues. By focusing so much on the need to treat patients and the costs of medical care, we forget about the actual goals of delivering treatment in the first place. Terminally ill patients generally want to live a good quality of life for as long as possible so as soon as medical interventions can reduce that quality of life, patient desires must be central in choosing the next steps.

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Category: General Health, Healthcare Politics, Medical Treatment

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