How to Make Difficult Life-Prolonging Healthcare Decisions

Throughout most of our lives, medical decisions are quite easy. If we get sick, we go to the doctor and get treated. We listen to the doctor and do what he suggests because it can only make us better. As one gets older, however, these decisions become less cut and dry. People are living longer and often with several long-term illnesses. Treatments begin to offer only limited benefits and often come with painful or burdensome side effects. Now the benefits and burdens of treatments have to be weighed and decisions made based on personal goals. 

The place to begin when considering life-prolonging treatments is to identify the intended goals of care. The life-limiting illness may be incurable but another illness can arise which can be easily treated. A person who is on hospice care for incurable cancer may still be treated to cure a urinary tract infection or pneumonia, for example.

The quality of life means something different for everyone. It is a very personal decision to make when treatments no longer contribute to the quality of life but actually take away from it. Some people are willing to sacrifice their comfort and enjoyment for the chance to live a few more months, even if that time is spent in the hospital. Others may decide to spend their final months at home with their loved ones, even if it means they may die a bit sooner. There is no “right answer” for everyone, only a “right” answer for you.

Establishing a goal of care early on and making your choices known is important. You can use an Advance Directive and appoint a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care to make decisions for you if you become unable to. Equally important is reassessing that goal as things change. Early on in a serious illness, your goal may be to do everything possible to find a cure. As your illness progresses, that goal may change and you may want to modify any legal documents to reflect those changes.1

Unfortunately, even with a clear goal in mind, decisions are rarely cut and dry. Difficult healthcare decisions are not made only with our logical minds. Our emotional and spiritual sides have a great impact on making difficult decisions as well, which can sometimes muddle an otherwise clear choice. Difficult decisions are so-called because that is exactly what they are, difficult.

A weekly feature for Lumby, Cherryville, and area seniors. For more information about any of the following please contact Colleen or Jenny at (250) 547-8866 Whitevalley Community Resource Centre Office (250) 547-8866. Funding support provided by Interior Health, the Province of British Columbia (Community Gaming), United Way Southern Interior and United Way Lower Mainland.