Planning Death in the Era of COVID-19

Planning Death in the Era of COVID-19

By: Paneet Gill
  678 reads

As a research assistant with the Gerontology Research Centre under Dr. Gloria Gutman, our study aims to discern how majority and certain minority groups are coping with COVID-19 and its related effects. While the COVID-19 pandemic has essentially put everyone “in the same storm”, not everyone is in “the same boat”. Evidence shows older adults are at the greatest risk of developing severe complications and have the highest death rates from contracting this virus. Over the course of my time spent working on this study, and with the ongoing pandemic, I have spent more time than usual thinking about end-of-life care for my grandma, parents, and even myself. With COVID-19 cases starting to upsurge again, I want to ensure I am prepared for any scenario and in making decisions I previously might not have been comfortable making.    

Why Should We Discuss Death?

In the unfortunate scenario where you or a loved one became critically ill, there could be certain wishes you might have for the medical care you would like to (or not like to) receive. Thinking about and writing down your requests for future health care treatment, in an event you become incapable of deciding for yourself, is called advance care planning. It is worthwhile discussing beforehand to avoid burdening family members and to ensure your wishes and values are fulfilled in the time of need. These wishes may include information on where you would like to receive care (e.g. home or in a hospital), who you would want nearby at the end of life (e.g. children, religious leader, etc.), and what kind of treatments would you agree or refuse to undergo. Without proper advance care plans in place, family members could have contradicting opinions – leading to undesired care, for example: being on a ventilator for longer than you would have wanted. Talking about death begins to normalize these discussions and makes the process easier for all those involved.

How to Have the Conversation?

It’s definitely not easy to talk about end-of-life issues, or to even think about them. When speaking to my parents who are in their fifties, they display a sense of hesitation and seem to believe that talking about death would bring them closer to it. A useful guide that has facilitated this conversation between my parents and I, is the conversation project which has a free-printable ‘starter kit’ to ease into this topic. You can also complete advance directives, which are legal documents letting you make preferences on health care treatments, such as life support or life-prolonging interventions, directly to a health care provider.

This conversation is tremendously valuable to have, now more important than ever due to the global pandemic we are all experiencing. While COVID-19 poses the greatest threat to older adults, all ages have become causalities to this virus. Having a conversation with grandparents or parents now is valuable to adequately prepare for what the future has in store, considering COVID-19 has emphasized the unpredictability of life. Discussions surrounding terminal illness, suffering, and the dying process are not light-hearted matters, however, the advantages of talking about it can be appreciated within all levels of health care. At the individual level, you are able to express what matters to you most while easing the troubles your family may come across; at the meso level, healthcare providers are aware of the desired care treatments and communication concerning end-of-life wishes are maximized; at the macro level, it reduces the burden on the health care system as only necessary supplies are used and less hospital beds may be occupied or occupied for a shorter time period. Evidently, the need for discussions and subsequent advance care planning document completion, given the current context of a pandemic and Canada’s aging population, is more important than ever.

 Beyond the Article

Posted on November 27, 2020