DETROIT – The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is changing the circumstances in which doctors recommend talking about your end-of-life wishes. Why is now the time for everyone to talk about their living will?
Doctors routinely bring up a patient’s end-of-life wishes when advanced dementia, terminal cancer and even severe heart disease is involved.
COVID-19 is changing all of that.
Nobody wants to think about the end of their life, and over his career, Dr. Frank McGeorge has been part of many heart-wrenching discussions with patients, families, spouses and even personal friends. The tendency is to put those talks off until we’re forced to have them, but he said right now is the time for everyone to have that discussion.
UPDATE -- April 3, 2020: Michigan coronavirus cases up to 12,744; Death toll now at 479
COVID-19 won’t put everyone in an intensive care unit, and it’s true that 80% of people recover uneventfully. But we can’t predict with certainty who will and won’t be seriously affected.
The illness has created unprecedented strain on ICUs around the world and in the United States. Many people who wouldn’t ordinarily have even considered ending up in an ICU are finding themselves there, often without thought or discussion with loved ones about how far they would want their care taken in dire circumstances.
Dr. McGeorge said this is the time for everyone, regardless of your current state of health, to talk about to loved ones and family members about what you would and wouldn’t want done if you found yourself in critical condition.
For older people and people with advanced medical conditions, having a document known as a “living will” is even more important. It’s a legal document that outlines your wishes in the event that you can no longer give informed consent.
“Having these discussions and completing these documents now takes an incredible burden off your family when hard choices need to be made”, McGeorge said. “I can say from first-hand experience: We are having these hard discussions every day during this pandemic and on our current trajectory the decisions will only become more difficult."
You should also identify a person who can make medical decisions for you by using a document called a “durable power of attorney for health care.”
These documents can be obtained from your doctor or online.