Why We Should Talk About Death and Dying

Isn’t it more than a bit illogical that the one thing that we know will happen to each of us – death – is a topic that we understand so little and are ill-prepared to handle?

The more we know about the process of dying and about our loved ones’ wishes for their own deaths, the more comfort we and our loved ones can enjoy. Knowledge leads to less fear and the greater likelihood of a “good death”.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door, The Path to a Better Way of Death”, by Katy Butler, is a 2013 book about the author’s experience with the deaths of her parents. Butler’s book is a good teacher – not only through her personal experience, but also through the research she undertakes regarding the medical industry.

Whether due to doctors’ fears about malpractice accusations or their belief that “if we can, we must”, too often end-of-life medical procedures prolong the dying process and increase the suffering, argues Butler. Ill-informed family members, reacting to a crisis and without time to research options, also contribute to the unnecessary suffering inflicted.

The futility of the medical industry’s attempts to delay death when it may no longer be delayed also can be seen in financial figures. Writes Butler: “A quarter of Medicare’s roughly $560 billion in annual outlays covers medical care in the last year of life.”  She also states: “Most of us say we don’t want to die ‘plugged into machines’, but a fifth of American deaths now take place in intensive care, where 10 days of futile flailing can cost as much as $323,000.”

The reluctance by many doctors to acknowledge their inability to “cure” their patients can also be seen in the shortness of hospice care. Medicare may pay for hospice care for those certified by a doctor to have fewer than 6 months to live. Butler writes that doctors and some families are so overoptimistic about the patient’s survival chances that half of those who enter hospice get hospice care for no more than their last 18 days of life – far short of the six months allowed.

Having a Minnesota Health Care Directive, in which you name someone to speak for you when you cannot speak for yourself, is an important first step to providing a “good death”.  But it is only a start.  A conversation between family members or among friends still needs to occur. And, a single conversation may not be enough because thoughts change over time as to how you wish to die and what you want for your care when you are dying.

A Minnesota estate planning attorney can help you prepare a Minnesota Health Care Directive.

The best time to prepare a Health Care Directive and to have a conversation about death and dying is before trouble develops.

Last summer, U.S. News published a letter written by Philip Moeller to his two sons, ages 28 and 32, requesting such a talk.

Moeller wrote: “Making plans for the future shouldn’t wait until your mother or I are at death’s door or until we face some funding crisis about our retirement income. . . .We think you should know how we want to be cared for if we are unable to make these decisions ourselves. . . .We have tried to raise this topic with you before but have received the ‘it’s too soon to worry about these things’ response. It’s not too soon. It’s time to talk. We know having this conversation would give us a lot of peace of mind. But we think it would do the same for you, too.”

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Bonnie Wittenburg, Wittenburg Law Office, PLLC, 601 Carlson Parkway, Suite 1050, Minnetonka, MN 55305         952-649-9771     bonnie@bwittenburglaw.com   www.bwittenburglaw.com