Valuable program helps Minnesotans with end-of-life choices.
Imagine that you suffered a stroke and were unable to speak. Would your family know your preferences for medical care? Or, if a terminal brain tumor impaired your ability to make decisions, would your doctor know whether you wanted to forgo radiation or undergo life-prolonging treatments?
Have you had these conversations in your family? Do you even know how to broach end-of-life matters with them? If the questions make you uneasy, you're not alone.
Over the past several decades, Americans have widely debated when life begins but have sidestepped death talk as if it were taboo or a matter over which they had no choice. That's why the emergence of Honoring Choices Minnesota is a welcome development to our state.
It's a program designed to help individuals and families engage in conversations about end-of-life care in ways that help people understand their choices and achieve quality care that reflects their wishes. It's about maintaining the best quality of life as death approaches.
The benefits to this approach include peace of mind and appropriate care. There may also be an economic savings in the sense that fewer patients may receive costly care that may neither be wanted nor necessary.
"One of the myths is that people are reticent to talk about death," said Dr. Kent Wilson, medical director of the program. "That's not true if you engage them in a serious discussion on a small, intimate level."
Honoring Choices wouldn't begin to make a dent in addressing the needs of Minnesotans without the participation of the state's major health care systems. Not only is that happening, but these providers have agreed to work cooperatively rather than competitively in implementing the program.
This kind of partnership makes it easier for individuals, their families and their medical teams to be on the same page regarding patient wishes. The health care community also has committed significant money toward training hundreds of "facilitators" to work with families, helping them to identify and discuss their preferences in medical and other end-of-life care.
Honoring Choices is modeled after an internationally acclaimed program pioneered in Wisconsin. Among other critical backers of the Minnesota effort are the Twin Cities Medical Society, Citizens League and Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), which is airing programs showing the range of medical, cultural, spiritual and other issues that are often integral in conversations around death.
"This was one of those great opportunities to use television to pierce the awkward end-of-life discussions," said TPT's Bill Hanley, who drew on personal experience while planning the program. As the end of his 92-year-old mother's life neared last fall, her doctors suggested she undergo kidney dialysis.
"My dad said, 'I'm not sure this is what she would want.' This allowed us to spark a conversation."
Family conversations are at the heart of Honoring Choices. No one wants a miserable death, but too many people are hesitant to discuss or even know how to achieve the best possible outcome. Minnesotans now have a significant tool to help them navigate the issues.