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Kim Callinan: Relentless pandemic shows urgent need for end-of-life care planning

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A new nationwide study by Vitas Healthcare reveals 69 percent of Americans report that talking about their wishes and values for end-of-life care is important to them, but only 56 percent have discussed them.

Tragically, 1 in 5 Americans said they had a loved one who was seriously ill or died during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they didn’t know their wishes or values for end-of-life care.  Furthermore, according to a nationwide survey released by the University of Michigan, the majority of Americans do not have a durable power of attorney and/or an advanced directive completed.

Since more than 550,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and about 35,000 Americans remain in a hospital daily, there remains an unprecedented urgent need for people to engage in informed, educated end-of-life care discussions. If more people documented their end-of-life care wishes, fewer doctors and loved ones will be forced to make gut-wrenching, life-and-death decisions for coronavirus patients.

That’s why on April 16, National Healthcare Decision Day, Compassion & Choices is calling on Americans to take charge of their end-of-life care plans. This call to action isn’t limited to completing an advanced directive and identifying a healthcare proxy who will fulfill your end-of-life care wishes if you are unable to speak for yourself. It’s also about contemplating the care you would want if you contract the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to end-of-life care decisions. A person who is terminally ill may make a different healthcare decision than a healthy, young person. Likewise, some people may value the quantity of life, while others value the quality of life. Either way, people should be contemplating questions such as:

  1. If my disease progresses and less invasive treatments are no longer working, do I want to go to the hospital and attempt additional life-saving treatments? Or would I prefer to forgo life-prolonging treatments and instead choose comfort care, so that I can die at home?
  2. Do I want doctors to attempt to restart my heart through resuscitation?  During CPR, you receive compressions (pushing) on your chest, forced breaths, and perhaps electrical shocks and drugs. The procedure sometimes results in damaged or broken ribs and/or punctured lungs. If your heart and breathing are stopped for a while, brain damage may occur. provides free end-of-life care fact sheets and planning tools to help you navigate your care options so that you can die on your own terms.

The only wrong answer with end-of-life care planning is failing to act. Taking action now will reduce the guilt and guesswork from caregiving for your loved ones and decrease the likelihood you will needlessly suffer when you die.

Kim Callinan holds a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and a graduate certificate in public health from the University of South Florida. She is the President & CEO of Compassion & Choices, the largest national organization devoted exclusively to patient-driven end-of-life care. Thanks to American Forum for sharing this article.


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