Why Your Doctor Wants You To Think About Your Own Death This Year

Jan 9, 2015

Doctors and hospitals in Washington hope you'll take some time in the new year to think about death — your own, and your loved ones’. It's part of a campaign to get more people planning for health care at the end of life.

The Washington State Medical Association and the Washington State Hospital Association have created a website with resources and prompts to get the conversation started. It will even generate an email for a loved one inviting them to talk about your own care, or urging them to communicate their wishes to others.

“I want to talk to you about your wishes for your end-of-life care,” reads one version. "When the time comes, I want to make sure that you get all the care you want and none of the care you don’t.”

It’s a way to ease into what can be an awkward conversation, but one that Dr. Donna Smith said is crucial.

“These conversations really help support you, as a family member, knowing that they’ll be getting the care they would have chosen, if they were able to speak for themselves,” she said.

Smith, a Virginia Mason Hospital physician who sits on the board of the state medical association, said it is easy to be intimidated by the gritty details of end-of-life care. But she said the conversation can really be about values.

“I want to make sure those decisions support what matters to you and support your quality of life. So let’s talk about what matters to you. What makes life worth living to you?” she said.

The website includes a section for health care professionals, and Smith said the campaign will soon begin offering direct training to doctors and others on how to facilitate end-of-life planning.