With the detection of actual gravitational waves predicted by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity one might think science and human ingenuity would know no bounds. But I continue to hold out that the boundary of knowledge will never extend beyond the death horizon. We will not know what, if anything other than eternal atomic disintegration is in store for us once we breathe our last breath.
Instead perhaps we should focus more on those days, weeks, and months that lay ahead as we creep closer to the end. Surveys show that far more people fear dying than being dead and rightly so. While almost everyone hopes to die peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones, reality indicates the vast majority of us will expire in a hospital, nursing home or other institution. And for many this last stand, can become one of pain, loneliness, even torture as the machinations of science and medicine are deployed to prolong life at all cost.
It doesn't have to be so. At a recent meeting of the Community Health Alliance, a group of health care providers, and advocates met to discuss the options that are available for individuals to gain control of their own dying process. I was encouraged, but surprised it was necessary. If the discussion of end of life options is needed among these highly involved care professionals, how much more must be done to reach the wider medical community and the general public?
As a start here are the highlights of what was discussed:
- Have conversations with loved ones about how you wish to approach your end of days.
- Prepare an Advance Directive that spells out your wishes for medical care at the end of life.
- Fill out a POLST form (Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment).
- Be aware of and take advantage of palliative care alternatives such as offered by Resolution Care.
- Be aware of and take advantage of Hospice for a more peaceful transition.
- Understand the requirements and restrictions with California's newly signed End of Life Choice Act (AB 15).
Unfortunately, this is a complex and evolving area that a mere list is totally inadequate to cover. To lean more, an expanded version of this article appears on http://speakingofdeath.com with links to more resources.
Many organizations and individuals are working hard to improve our options and the availability of alternatives to invasive medical procedures. Each of us needs to become educated and take action or become victims of our own passivity.
Resources for Taking Control
- Humboldt Advance Care Planning Coalition
- Resolution Care
- Hospice of Humboldt
- Aging With Dignity
- My Directives
- California POLST