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By Damie Nelson of the Silver City End of Life Options Coalition

My husband and I have been working on our wills and advance directives for over a year now. We’ve asked questions and received answers from our doctors; we’ve filled out the Five Wishes and done some editing to make the forms fit our personal preferences; we’ve studied the “what if’s” carefully. We’re close to being finished, although we still have some questions to explore and research to do. But there’s one thing we are both very clear on: Neither of us wants to go bankrupt treating a terminal illness or injury.

We are both retired school teachers. Long careers as teachers left us comfortable but not wealthy. We spent our money carefully -- buying used cars and small houses, taking camping vacations, etc. -- and we got used to being frugal. We have no children of our own, choosing instead to focus on beloved nieces and nephews and our many students. We were lucky that we had, and still have, health insurance, though it doesn’t go as far as it used to. The conversations that creating advance directives and wills required made us realize that a serious illness could easily land us in bankruptcy. Modern medicine can keep a body alive longer, but there can be tremendous cost. The surviving spouse could be thrust into poverty and, possibly, homelessness, a hard-earned retirement nest egg used to pay mounting medical bills instead.

In our advance directives, we have made it clear that we don’t want heroic, expensive measures taken to prolong our lives. If I die first, I’d like to know that my husband will be able to continue living the lifestyle to which we are accustomed -- comfortable, not lavish -- with a solid roof over his head, with food and activities to feed him body and soul in my absence. He feels the same about me.

I learned a lot from a few articles. The first is an essay entitled “How Doctors Die.” Google it. I learned that treatment in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) can cost tens of thousands of dollars a day, and that many people who are given CPR never leave the hospital alive. Another article was on National Public Radio, entitled “Dying in a Hospital Means More Procedures, Tests and Costs.” You can Google that too, and read it yourself. Then, as part of my research for this essay, I stumbled upon an interesting website: costofcare.org. Much food for thought is available online. I encourage you to seek it out.

My husband and I will get our advance directives completed soon and get copies to our doctors, Gila Regional Medical Center, our families, and all our vehicle glove compartments. We both want to be able to exit this life at home with our family, friends and pets nearby. We want as much control and autonomy and peace as possible. We don’t want to force our spouse into bankruptcy because some well-meaning physician authorizes futile tests, drugs and treatment. And we fully support the End of Life Options Act, a bill which will come before the New Mexico Legislature in January 2019. We want the option, just as terminally ill people in Oregon, Washington, Montana, California, Colorado, Vermont, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia have, to ingest a physician-prescribed fatal dose of medicine and end our suffering and the depletion of our savings.

Thinking and talking about death isn’t fun. Neither is thinking about what is left undone when we die. However, planning for the inevitable allows a person some final control, a last expression of self. Planning may allow the dying spouse some peace and may allow the surviving spouse to continue to live with more than just memories.

For more information on end of life options see the following resources:

Compassion & Choices  

Death with Dignity National Center 

To contact the Silver City End of Life Options Coalition or leave comments: sceolocoalition@innerconnections.us