Jane Brody Encourages End Of Life Planning

Apr 15, 2013

Let's face it, aging and death are not conversation topics people really look forward to, but Jane Brody says it's crucial to talk about the inevitable before it occurs.

Brody is the Personal Health Columnist for the New York Times. She'll be in Westminster on Tuesday, to give a talk called "The Great Beyond Can Wait, but You Can't. Helping Your Loved Ones Prepare Medically, Legally and Emotionally For the End of Life." It's part of the Speaking of Aging Series presented by Westminster Cares.

Brody knows how important these issues are from personal experience, having written about losing her husband to cancer.

She says the best decision she made was talking to her husband before he died, and while he was still mentally competent, about how he wanted to spend his final days, and what he did or did not want done for him medically when the end was at hand.

"The truth is that is was much less traumatic than it might have otherwise been for me, because we were on the same page," Brody said. "The fact that he could face his end with equanimity helped all of us."

Brody says if people want doctors to do everything possible, they should let people know, and it should be the same for people who want just comfort care.

Brody says there's no right age to do it.

"From the age of 18 on you can have all the legal documents in place, and you can certainly express your wished and no parent can override them if you have them in writing."

She says many people get stuck on the medical issues and they end up following the doctor's inclination to do something.

Vermont has been considering end of life issues, and considered a law allow physicians to help patients end their own lives. The original version of that law was based on one in use in Washington and Oregon.

"It would be nice to have the option, and option is a carefully used word, because in most cases if a patient gets hospice care, the desire to end a life prematurely dissipates because hospice is designed to keep people comfortable in their last days.  I certainly would want to have an option, but the truth is in Washington and Oregon, where the studies have been done into how often these options have been exercised, it's really very uncommon," Brody said.  

Brody said it's very important to make sure that treatable depression is not the reason patients are seeking that option, and it's important to make sure those safeguards are in the bill.

Jane Brody is the author of "Jane Brody's Guide to the Great Beyond." She'll be speaking on Tuesday at the Kurn Hattin Homes for Children in Westminster.