Thinking about and planning for the end of life can be difficult for patients and their families. However, discussing treatment choices and plans before the last days of life can make the process easier for both the patient and the family. Making major decisions can be very emotional but also can be a time of personal growth. Often this is a time when people have a chance to find out more about themselves and appreciate what is most important to them.
Planning for the end of life is easier when patients, families and the health care team talk openly together. Choices about care and treatment at the end of life should be made while the patient is able to make them. Putting the decisions in writing ahead of time can make the patient’s wishes clear to the family and health care team when the time comes to make final choices.
End-of-life planning usually includes making decisions about
- The goals of care
- Where the patient wants to spend his or her final days
- Which treatments for end-of-life care the patient wishes to receive
- What type of palliative care or hospice care the patient wishes to receive
- If and/or when the patient wants to stop treatments
A patient may wish to receive all possible treatments, only some treatments or no treatment at all. These decisions may be written down ahead of time in an advance directive or living will. Advance directive is the general term for different types of legal documents that describe the treatment or care a patient wishes to receive or not receive when he or she is no longer able to speak his or her wishes. A living will is one type of document for specifying these wishes.
The patient may also wish to name a health care proxy, who makes health-related decisions for the patient should the patient become unable to do so. This can make it easier for family members and caregivers to fulfill the patient’s wishes in the last days or hours, such as whether to give nutritional support, restart the heart, help with breathing or give medicines.
Many patients rely on spiritual or religious beliefs to help them cope with cancer and the end of life. Each person has different spiritual needs. For some seriously ill patients, their spirituality may affect how they feel about the end of life and the decisions they make about their care.
The mission of the Norton Healthcare Pastoral Care Department is to promote spiritual health and provide timely, compassionate spiritual care and support to patients and their families. Our staff of chaplains is available to provide prayer, religious services, a listening ear and help with decision-making for patients and families of any or no religious denomination. Chaplains can be a comforting help to families making difficult choices.
Norton Cancer Institute Resource Centers
The Norton Cancer Institute Resource Centers are available to offer support and additional information about end-of-life planning. Find out more information or call (502) 629-5500.