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When Should You Stop Life Support And Treatment Options For Someone You Love?

Factors to consider when you have to make very difficult decisions for someone you love.

Determining another human’s fate when they’re dealing with extreme medical conditions can put you in a position where there are no good options. Even in the most clear-cut situations there can still be long-lasting regrets.

Let’s assume the person didn’t leave any treatment instructions behind. As much as we’d love for everyone to complete an Advance Directive, which is a combination of naming a Health Care Proxy and filling out a Living Will, most people don’t do it and leave it to their family to make these impossible decisions on their own.

For now, assume the person is on some form of life support and you’re tasked with managing their care. Here are three things to consider:

1. What Are The Chances For Recovery?

Here’s another way to phrase this question: “What does recovery look like?”

Quality of life is always top of mind, which can be subjective. Perhaps after a major accident a person must undergo extensive procedures and a lengthy rehab, but they’ll live to enjoy another day. In those instances life support and treatments enable healing. It might be a long road ahead, but you’re not going to count them out.

On the more dire end of the spectrum, what if a doctor tells you that the tubes and machines are the only things keeping your loved one alive? Any treatments they perform could extend their life but none lead to a viable path towards recovery. Any high risk treatments could prolong the pain.

This is when you might want to learn more about the types of pain management they could provide, how long the person can continue in this condition, and if care needs to take place in a hospital or if the person can be cared for at home in a more comfortable setting?

You’re gathering all this information to decide between additional treatment options or hospice, which can provide comfort and dignity to patients at the end of their life.

2. How Much Will It Cost?

It’s horrible that we live in a time when some of the most advanced medical treatment options in the history of humanity are out of reach because of the price. Blame health insurance or a broken system, but the reality is cost can play a part.

If a person is certain to survive, you’ll find a way regardless of the financial hit.

If a person isn’t likely to survive you may have to gauge how far you’re willing to go until the money runs out. Perhaps private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid will fund treatment to a point, but then the burden will fall on the patient’s assets. In some instances, those debts can extend beyond death and family can be on the hook as well.

Just because a person wants to live at all costs doesn’t mean the hospital or medical facility stops charging. If doctors determine there’s nothing more they can do you may have to relocate them to a private facility. Many families may want to move them home, but what if they require extensive equipment and 24-hour professional medical care? Is your home and budget capable of providing that?

It's completely terrible that money could be the reason you must forgo treatment, but it also might be a wake-up call that you’re throwing money at a situation that can’t be fixed.

3. What Would The Person You Love Want?

This is the part where we say everyone should name a Health Care Proxy and fill out a Living Will. A Proxy (or Health Care Agent, Health Care Power Of Attorney) is the person who is authorized to make medical decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself. You could be in a coma, suffering from a mental decline, or simply not be able to speak. This person is your advocate and will fight to make sure you get what you want.

A Living Will outlines the treatments you want or don’t want when things are looking grim. Would you want every life saving measure taken no matter what, or is there a point when there’s no chance at recovery they should let you go?

Ideally everyone would complete these free forms, which vary from state-to-state, and have a productive chat with your Proxy and the rest of your family so when a crisis hits the Proxy isn’t left to guess what you would have wanted. Even if they don’t agree with it, they’d respect your decisions. Even if family members and friends shout them out of the room and take them to court, they’ll still stand their ground because their purpose is to fight to make your decisions a reality.

Since less than half of adults complete an Advance Directive, it’s often up to the family to determine treatments, which is a tall order. Most families can’t decide on a place to eat let alone whether or not they should cease life support treatments for one of their parents.

This is a gift most people should give their family, but seldom do. Maybe you’re superstitious and think speaking of bad things makes them come true. It’s a terrible situation that can be avoided if you put aside your fears and realize that making these decisions now can prevent additional misery during an already miserable time.

The forms are free, you can download your state’s Advance Directive form here, and we hope you fill one out. We said our piece, moving on…

Your Final Decision Is Correct No Matter What You Choose

There’s a chance a person in critical condition will slip away on their own. There’s also a chance a doctor or nurse will turn to you for guidance when treatment options become limited, forcing you to decide between further treatment or palliative care (meaning: treat the pain to provide comfort first and foremost).

Here’s some good news: Whatever decision you make is the right one. Talk to every medical professional you can find; have heart-to-heart conversations with other loved ones to figure out what’s best. Once again, here are the important things to consider:

  • Gauge possible paths to recovery and what recovery might look like
  • Limit suffering, which could mean foregoing painful treatment options that won’t improve your loved one’s quality of life – think CPR on a frail 90-year-old body
  • Be mindful of the cost so you’re not paying for treatments that won’t lead to recovery – especially if there’s a surviving spouse or other family members that may need those funds to survive

When you’ve factored those things together, you also want to be as comfortable as possible with your decision. It’s common for people to doubt their decisions at a later point in time, especially as the memories of those moments get more distant. When those thoughts creep in remind yourself that you didn’t act in haste. You did everything you possibly could. Then do your best to remember some good moments you had together throughout life and not focus on the difficult ones at the end.

Topics
  • Advance Directive
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