Advanced care planning: Taking control of your life even in the final days

Do your loved ones know what your final wishes are? Adrian Ghobrial with the difficult discussion health care providers are asking you to have with your family. 

By Adrian Ghobrial

The pandemic is shining a spotlight on just how precious life is and tragically how little control so many have had in their final days.

Multiple healthcare practitioners are urging Canadians to sit down and have a conversation with their loved ones about an advanced care plan.

This isn’t a will. It isn’t about your finances or estate. It’s about you having some say in your final days, if you find yourself so fortunate.

“I like to say an advanced care plan is a gift for your family and friends. It reduces the anxiety at the moment, when there’s a lot of emotion,” says Denyse Burns, an end-of-life Doula.

Some of the many details you can add to your plan include your thoughts on life support, or whether you want assistance in breathing and what type of palliative care you would like to receive.

According to a poll conducted by ‘Speak Up’ Advance Care Planning initiative, 80 per cent of Canadian’s believe having a plan in place is a good idea, though just one in five actually have one.

Family physician Chantal Perrot has been initiating the discussion with her patients for years.

“The idea of advanced care planning, I think a lot of people think ‘that’s just too depressing — I just don’t want to think about it’,” she notes. “There’s a lot more work for us to do to try to de-stigmatize death and dying. We have a death-defying culture and I think we need to have a death-embracing culture where we see death as a very significant part of life and not only as something to be feared.”

Having the conversation with your family may take multiple attempts and it can be difficult.

Emily Lewis is a former paramedic and her husband Bill still works as an EMS district chief. They’ve seen first-hand how life can take a sudden turn, though it was still a challenge for them to come to a shared understanding of what each of them want when the time comes.

“For my husband, he just does not want to talk about it, does not want to think that it’s a possibility. So for me, it was about chipping away at that shield he had up,” said Lewis. She tells CityNews it took them multiple attempts before they finally drafted something up.

“Someone will be there to speak the words I may not be able to speak, someone will be there to say I know Emily very well, I know that she would or would not want this. If my heart won’t beat on its own and I can’t breath on my own then that’s it for me. Knowing that will help everyone involved accept the difficult decisions that are going to have to be made,” she said.

As a Doula, Burns has heard of all sorts of difficult situations families have found themselves in.

“I think it’s frightening. I’m thinking, ‘what happens to the family members and what happens to the individual who is dying and not able to speak’?”

If you want your wishes to be known and you want to empower a family member by knowing what your wishes are, you can draft something up, print it off and keep updating it through the years if your views change.

There’s also multiple resources and templates online, be it an advanced care plan or a power of attorney for personal care.

Some of the resources can be found here and here.

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