February 2012 Newsletter – The Game of Chance, or Avoiding Reality

An article by Jennifer C. Kerr appeared in The Seattle Times which reported a poll taken of baby-boomers born between 1946 and 1964. This particular poll found that 64 percent of boomers say they don’t have a living will or a health care proxy. Kerr explains, “Those documents would guide medical decisions should a patient be unable to communicate with doctors.”

Those polled mentioned all kinds of justification for not having made decisions or documenting one’s preferences for end-of-life choices. When I was young I remember reasoning that modern science would figure out a way for me to live forever. From answers given in Kerr’s article you would think we boomers were still in our teens arguing this to be the inevitable case! Author, William Saroyan, said, “Everybody has got to die but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?”

Some of the people among the sandwich generation, providing for their children and parents, argued that they are healthy, and their parents in their 80s are healthy, too! They don’t consider themselves at risk for needing to give consideration to wills and decisions. Many figure they have another decade or more before having to determine health care proxies or living wills. One 61 year old summarized it best, “You always think something is going to happen to the other guy, not you.”

When I prepare to speak to a group I don’t publicize that I’m speaking to boomers or seniors. I let people know that whether we live another five months or 45 years, we can empower ourselves with choices that enhance the rest of our lives—giving ourselves, and our loved ones peace of mind. I relate a story from my book about a first-born coming into this world needing a heart-transplant. Having to decide how to honor the short life of this infant was the furthest thought from the minds of this young couple! When my grandson graduated from pre-school I met a woman with three children under the age of six—the oldest also graduating that morning from pre-school. Her husband, age 34, had died the week before from a complication during what was to have been minor surgery. We just never know.

We don’t have a crystal ball that tells us how much time we have left to live or what those years will be like. What we do have control over is making decisions that have to do with the care we want, and how we want to be treated.

Aging with Dignity created the Five Wishes form which is recognized as a legal document in all but seven states. For those seven states, the form can still be used as a model—a guide—that can be completed and given to a lawyer for further documentation.Compassion and Choices also has an easy-to-use legal document that lets you plan how you want to be cared for should you become seriously ill. These forms let you indicate the person you want to make care decisions for when you can’t, let’s you specify what medical treatment you want or don’t want, and how you want to be treated to maintain your dignity. These forms have been written by The American Bar Association and are wonderful tools to examine your options even if you proceed to a lawyer for further or more involved documentation. There are many decisions we are empowered to voice our opinions about now, and doing so relieves the burden you otherwise leave to your family.