My wife’s aunt and her husband became seriously ill at the same time. Although married 58 years, they were still opposites in many ways, as reflected in their wishes regarding life support. Janet wanted every possible measure taken. Marty said, “If I’m on my way out, don’t get in my way.”

At the time, I saw a certain attractiveness in each approach, but I gave no study and little thought to choices I might make in a similar situation. A sudden diagnosis of leukemia changed that.

Decisions about life support are not a matter of choosing Pack-age A, B, or C. Medical situations are frequently complex; personal factors make them more so. Thus the choices one makes are highly individual. The following are some suggestions for ensuring that a life support situation is handled the way you personally wish.

1. Investigate your specific situation

The likelihood that life support will be needed, the type, and the duration are peculiar to your specific medical situation. Therefore it’s important to learn as much as you can about your condition, and if grave or progressive, what its latter stages might entail.

2. Learn about life support measures

When a vital body function fails or operates at a dangerously low level, a life-support measure takes its place and performs its task wholly or in part. Some measures are temporary by their nature. Others may be temporary if the patient’s condition is treatable or curable; they may continue indefinitely if it is not.

3.Learn about advance directives

A serious illness may prevent you from participating in decisions about your own medical treatment. That’s what advance directives are all about—stating in advance your wishes about treatment you do and/or do not want.

4.Consult, consider, commit

Decisions about life support are ultimately yours and yours alone. However, just sharing your thoughts, hopes, questions, and fears can be a great consolation.

As he wished, no one stood in Marty’s way on his way out. They simply relieved his pain and, when he was conscious, treated him to a delight long forbidden him by diabetes: a taste of chocolate ice cream. Janet recovered and at 93 still enjoys Italian dinners, travel, bingo, and sales. I also have considered the life-support possibilities and made my decisions. You will, too.

Excerpt from “What Are My Choices Regarding Life Support” from One Caring Place.

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