End of Life: In Dignity and With Peace of Mind

Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion & Choices, explains why patients should have the right to plan their end-of-life experience. Click here to read an editorial by Ari Ne’eman, a Member of the National Council on Disability, on why death on demand puts our society at risk.

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Elaine Spence’s parents were both past 90. Her father suffered from spinal stenosis; her mother had lost mobility. For both, dementia was beginning to affect the quality of their days. They talked to Elaine about wanting to bring their lives to an end. After speaking with a Compassion & Choices End-of-Life counselor, she found what she needed most: someone who would listen. She got honest, judgment-free answers about their choices.

When we remember loved ones who have died, no impressions are as poignant as those of their last days. After they are gone, and we gather memories, we harvest what has been sown. We must sow compassion and understanding, not fear, as we plan for the end-of-life experience our loved ones would most desire and we would desire for ourselves.

America’s reluctance to accept death means we usually respond to dying with overwhelming fear. In compassion, we must honestly listen to what our dying loved one actually wants. Most of us do not want to spend our last days in an intensive care unit hooked up to a bunch of machines with lights and sounds reacting to our bodies’ every change. Sadly this is the death many Americans get, although we wish for something very different. The last memories we hope to create are at home, the home we spent a lifetime creating, the place that gives us comfort and strength. We want to surround ourselves with those who love us, say goodbyes, share stories, and rest in quiet calm.

To harvest that dream, we must plant the right seeds today. If you anticipate having to make end-of-life plans, or know someone who will, here are the things you can do now:

  • Talk to your doctor. Talk about what makes your life meaningful. Consider specific conditions, like permanent unconsciousness and terminal illness.
  • Fill out an advance directive. Have the conversation. Would you be called on to make decisions for a parent or loved one who couldn’t? Then talk to them about what they want.