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By Karen Love

Silver City End of Life Options Coalition

Although planning for the end of life is usually not high on anyone’s to-do list (perhaps right behind cleaning your rain gutters or pulling weeds), many resources exist that can make this important task much easier. Compassion & Choices (C&C), the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization committed to improving care and expanding options for the end of life, provides tools to facilitate having discussions, making decisions, and documenting your choices regarding care at the end of life.

My mother, who recently died at the age of 91, used C&C’s resources years ago to specify her end of life wishes, and we had many discussions around her preferences; as a result, when the crisis situation arose and I took her to the hospital and then to hospice, I had all her documentation in hand and no doubt in my mind as to her wishes. That was a great comfort to me and to her. According to the staff at the hospital and hospice, however, in many instances the family does not know the individual’s wishes, leading to arguments among family members and elevation of already stressful situations. Most importantly, though, the dying individual may not receive the care they had wanted.

C&C provides materials for taking important steps toward managing your end of life care, including assessing what’s important to you, speaking with loved ones and healthcare providers, and putting your plan together before a medical crisis occurs. All these materials can be found on C&C’s website at here; under the “Plan Your Care” tab, you will find a number of resources, including the “My End-of-Life Decisions” Guide & Toolkit.

In addition, C&C offers end of life consultants free of charge when you call 1-800-247-7421. These consultants do not provide medical or legal advice and do not encourage any particular plan or options; instead, their goal is simply to educate people on the full range of end of life options and provide information on a broad spectrum of topics such as navigating the healthcare system and the benefits of hospice care. Language-interpreter services are available through C&C, and the website includes information in Spanish.

Putting your plan together includes an advance directive, which consists of a living will (“what I want”) and a medical durable power of attorney (“who will speak for me if I cannot”). An advance directive indicates what healthcare you would want if you are terminally ill or severely injured.

Now for some good news: a lawyer is not required to complete an advance directive in most states (including New Mexico). You can simply sign the form, though it is recommended (but not required) that you have two other individuals sign as witnesses. Having witnesses sign the form can be helpful, especially if you think you might find yourself in another state where that is required.

You can find New Mexico’s advance-directive form through the C&C website, or you can go directly to University of New Mexico’s website (https://coc.unm.edu/advance-directives/index.html) that contains links to the form. Make copies of the completed form to keep in your purse, wallet, and glove box of your car and give copies to family or friends (and talk with them about your preferences!). A future article in this column will focus on the advance directive and provide additional information.

C&C provides several other forms as supplements to the advance directive, including:

  • “My Particular Wishes for Therapies That Could Sustain Life”: informs relevant parties of your consent or refusal of certain specific therapies;
  • “Dementia Provision”: advises medical providers, healthcare proxies, caregivers and loved ones of the wishes of a patient with Alzheimer’s Disease or some other form of advanced dementia;
  • Assisted-living-facility rider: helps ensure an assisted-living facility will respect a resident’s wishes for care at end of life.

Although the idea of planning for the end of life can seem overwhelming, thanks to organizations like C&C we have straightforward toolkits and knowledgeable consultants to make this important process highly approachable. Having plans that are documented and known to others provides peace of mind for you and those around you, and the freedom to focus on things at hand (like those rain gutters).

For more information on End of Life options see the following resources:

Compassion & Choices

Death with Dignity National Center 

To leave comments: sceolocoalition@innerconnections.us

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