There may be no bigger decision you will have to make than the end-of-life decisions for a loved one who is incapable of making it for themselves.

The ideal scenario would be if the patient had made it clear to you before their dire situation what they would like, or better yet, put it in writing in the form of an advanced directive and named you their power of attorney. However, as stated this is the ideal scenario and often times caregivers and loved ones find themselves in less than ideal circumstances.

If you are the patient’s next of kin, or in the absence of that, their closest friend, a healthcare professional or even a court may assign these decision making responsibilities to you. Health and legal professionals want to ensure that the best interests of the patient are met and as such you are in a position as their loved one or friend to provide information on how the patient might choose to live out their last days. What were their beliefs, values, traditions, health preferences etc.

When given this task, it is crucial to get as much information as possible from their doctor regarding any and all available options and their respective consequences and outcomes. You must know the risks and benefits, levels of potential pain, and possible prolonged suffering.

The following are some helpful questions to ask yourself:

  • If my friend or loved one was alert and knew their condition, what would be their goal?
  • Would they consider the physician’s proposed treatment as beneficial?
  • What would they consider to be too risky or what side effects would they consider not worth the treatment?
  • Is the proposed treatment likely to improve quality of life?
  • Will it have an adverse effect on their ability to communicate?
  • If recovery and treatment aren’t possible, which symptoms would they most want to minimize or avoid altogether (ex: pain)
  • What is most important to my friend or loved one?