Have You Spoken with Loved Ones About Your End-of-Life Care Wishes?

Have You Spoken with Loved Ones About Your End-of-Life Care Wishes?

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Photo by Albert Lu

Read also in Spanish and Chinese.

LOS ANGELES -- A top priority for most Californians at the end of life is to not be a burden on loved ones. But less than half have actually spoken to family about what they would want to happen, if they become incapacitated, according to a recent study.

This is especially true for minorities. Asians and Latinos are the least likely to have communicated with family members about end-of-life wishes, leaving the responsibility to make excruciating decisions — such as whether to insert a feeding tube after loss of brain function or to harvest organs — to family members.

A 2011 study from the California Health Care Foundation found that while 54 percent of white Americans have spoken about their wishes, only 31 percent of Latinos and 33 percent of Asians have done so.

The number of Californians who have put their wishes in writing is even lower, and again Latinos and Asians are the least likely to have done so: 9 percent of Latinos and 21 percent of Asians, compared with 33 percent of whites.

The top reason Asian respondents gave for not discussing end-of-life wishes was “they have too many things to worry about right now.” Latinos said they “don’t want to think about death or dying.” Other contributing factors could be cultural taboos surrounding speaking about death or doctors failing to encourage minorities to have these conversations, according to experts.

One way to have that conversation — and to document it — is by filling out an advance health care directive with a loved one. These forms ensure that family and friends know what you would want for health care if you are unable to communicate with a doctor, ensuring your wishes are followed and sparing others the burden of making these decisions for you at a time of incredible stress.

Another measure intended to complement the advanced directive is a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), which is signed by both physician and patient and is specially designed for seriously ill patients. Both are available in multiple languages.

Following are links to basic information in four languages: Advanced directives / 提前規劃: English | Español | 中文 | Vietnamese 

POLST/ 醫生指導下的生命維持治療: English | Español | 中文繁體 | 中文簡體 

Daniela Gerson wrote this article for Alhambra Source through a California Healthcare Foundation Journalism Fellowship, a project of New America Media in collaboration with the Stanford In-reach for Successful Aging through Education Program.