Life brings agonizing decisions

Ann Owens Brunger

Ann Owens Brunger

What would you decide for your loved ones?

• 1. A premature baby with brain damage should

a. be kept on life support indefinitely.

b. be allowed to die peacefully.

• 2. An 85-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease should

a. be resuscitated if he or she stops breathing.

b. have a DNR (do not resuscitate) order.

• 3. A person who has had cancer three times should

a. be given chemotherapy again.

b. stop active treatment.

• 4. The spouse of a cancer patient having surgery should

a. be legally named the health care agent to make medical decisions if the patient is incapacitated.

b. hope and pray.

• 5. When praying for a dear friend with a terminal illness, one should ask

a. to let him live.

b. to let him die.

My answers are a, b, a, both a and b, b. I don’t know if my answers are “correct,” but they are the real decisions I have made involving the care of my family members, friends and self.

An over-simplified multiple-choice test doesn’t represent the many factors that must be considered when making life and death decisions. None of us should have to make agonizing decisions alone. Fortunately, in our community, many supportive services are available to help families with health care decisions. I have learned about them at Blount Memorial as a patient, chaplain and Hospice team member.

A spiritual advisor is a good source of support to transform fear and confusion into calm and clarity. A trusted medical practitioner is the source of professional advice. Medical professionals can explain the expected outcome from a particular treatment. With good information and advice based on professional experience, we can weigh the pros and cons and make informed decisions.

We can’t avoid death, but we can make choices about maximizing the quality of life as we or our loved ones approach death. Sources of support for end-of-life decision-making and care are available through Blount Memorial Palliative Care and Hospice. Contrary to hysterical misinformation, hospice is more about how you live than how you die. Hospice does not “pull the plug” or kill people with drugs. Once you are registered with hospice, you can change your mind at any time and get discharged to seek active treatment or other options.

Hospice provides comfort (palliative) care when active treatment no longer benefits the patient. This is available in the home (if families are able to meet the patient’s needs) or in the hospital or nursing home. Hospice care is comprehensive and is provided by a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, bath aides and volunteers (well-trained to provide a listening ear and warm support). The hospice team can help people make the best end-of-life decisions based on faith, not fear; correct, not misleading information; and medical expertise that provides comfort by managing pain and other symptoms.

I am greatly comforted that this compassionate and comprehensive care is available in Blount and surrounding counties for me and my family. For information about hospice admission criteria and options, call Blount Memorial Hospice at 865-977-5702.

Ann Owens Brunger is a chaplain with Blount Memorial Hospice, and can be reached by calling 865-977-5702.

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