Respecting a Patient's Wishes
The diagnosis of a terminal illness is bound to illicit strong feelings from the patient, as well as from those who hold that person dear. As decisions are required regarding treatment options, caretakers, and ultimately, dying with dignity, the opinions of those involved may sometimes clash. While loved ones certainly have the right to their opinions, everyone should try their best to respect the patient’s wishes and support that person’s choices.
So many important decisions must be made once a terminal diagnosis has been delivered and since it is impossible to foresee the future, even patients themselves are likely to experience mixed feelings and confusion about choosing the right path. If one could be certain that proposed treatments would afford them additional quality time, many patients would probably choose to submit, even if the treatments themselves are expected to be uncomfortable or even painful, but since virtually no treatment options come with guarantees, it can be hard to make decisions without wavering. Many patients fear diminishing the quality of their remaining time by embarking on a difficult treatment path even more than they fear death itself and for them, limiting or foregoing treatment may be something they consider. Allowing patients to work through their feelings while letting them know that they will be supported, no matter their final decision, can help relieve them of the burden of trying to please others.
Helping the Terminally Ill
Every person must determine for themselves how they want to live their lives. When time is limited, priorities sometimes become clearer and there may be a sense of urgency regarding things left undone. Those who are in a position to support a dying loved one can do so in a number of ways, the most important of which may simply be listening. Offering a willing ear so that terminally ill patients can voice their hopes, dreams, fears, and wishes is an invaluable gift to them, allowing them to exert at least a little control over a situation that must at times seem completely unmanageable.
While friends and family members may not be able to change the final outcome of a terminal illness, they can act as liaisons between patients and caretakers, seeing that the patient’s needs are being met and that things are done according to their instructions. Fighting illness is difficult enough without having to battle others about treatment options and other preferences. Even when patients choose to discontinue treatment altogether, which is common, they need and deserve the support and acceptance of those closest to them. Friends and family do not have to agree with the decisions that patients make, but they must respect the fact that the choices are not theirs to make.
Dying with Dignity
When faced with the knowledge that they are entering the last stages of their lives, it is normal for patients to give extraordinary consideration to how they would prefer to die. Most have strong opinions and feel the need to secure promises from family members that their wishes will be honoured, even if they get to a stage when they are unable to speak for themselves. Listening to a terminally ill patient and offering reassurance that they are being understood can provide them with a great sense of comfort – whether they wish to fight until the very last moments or come to a point of wanting to be at home, sans any medical intervention, knowing that their choices will be respected is important.
So many aspects of the dying process are out of the control of those involved. Illness takes its own course and death comes when it wishes, but there are things that can be done to help patients and their loved ones to individualise the experience as much as possible. The terminally ill should be afforded every opportunity to express their preferences regarding their care and every effort should be made to see that the last part of life is handled in as close a manner as possible to the patients’ final wishes.
NOTE: The information provided above is in no way intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Self-diagnosing and/or choosing to avoid medical care can result in serious health complications. Readers are advised to seek professional medical advice and/or care for all of their health concerns.