You can discuss your dinner options or your weekend plans – but what about your end-of-life wishes? While 90 percent of people think it’s important to discuss end-of-life care with loved ones, especially in the event of critical illness or injury, less than 30 percent actually have the conversation. More often than not, this subject can seem daunting and cause us to push off any serious discussions.

Why is it important to have the conversation about end-of-life care?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1.5 million emergency department admissions require critical care. Often, these serious injuries or illnesses are sudden and extreme. It’s moments like these – the scary, unexpected hospitalization – where many families are faced with the unknown: how do they move forward with your care?

Your family may be asked to make complex medical decisions, and the burden of their choices may weigh heavily, even later in life. When you have had conversations about what’s important to you, you not only make sure you get treatments aligned with your values, you also help relieve loved ones of unnecessary guilt or stress.

Who should have the conversation?

Everyone. It may feel like you should wait until you need to talk, but the truth is that the unexpected is just that: unexpected. The sooner you can have the conversation, the better.

Talk about this with as many family members and close friends as you can. The more people engaging in this conversation, the better. The more people who know how you feel about things, the more likely your wishes will be respected.

Also consider discussing your preferences for treatment with your doctor, who will be familiar with your medical history and can make suggestions on routine medical care based on what’s important to you.

What tools can I use to have the conversation?

An advance health care directive is a legal document with two important components. First, you name a health care agent – someone who speaks for you if you are unable to make health care decisions yourself. Second, you describe the conditions under which you would want or not want life support treatment.

Once complete, store your directive in an easily accessible place and distribute copies to your doctor(s), health care agent(s) and loved ones.

How can I help my loved ones have the conversation?

Having the conversation can be awkward. Completing your own advance directive first may help introduce the idea to other members of your family and may make it easier for everyone to discuss.

Through the Long Beach Has the Conversation initiative, the Palliative Care Program at Long Beach Medical Center encourages you to have a series of conversations to discuss and determine your end-of-life care. By having the conversation, you take the burden of decision-making off your family and can ensure your end-of-life wishes are respected. It’s an important, worthwhile discussion, and is probably easier than you think. For more information, visit our page on Palliative Care.