Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Hindsight, Humor, and Hope: An Adult Program

Activity 4: Five Wishes

Activity time: 25 minutes

Introduce this activity, saying:

While it can be difficult at any time to deal with end-of-life issues because they concern our own mortality and the unknown, it is easier to make known our end-of-life health-care decisions while we are in good health. Atul Gawande, a wise surgeon and author of the book Being Mortal, says, “The two big unfixables are aging and dying. That is why it is good to start earlier to plan for quality of life when you may have an unfixable health problem.”

The last century’s rapid medical advances put all the focus on prolonging life—even if an actual cure was not possible and doing further treatment would cause detrimental side effects. It is only recently that medical thinking in the United States has begun to change from “Extend life by all means” to having a conversation with the patient to help them consider, “What quality of living do I want for the end of my life?” Then a treatment plan can be developed to go with the patient’s wishes.

You may have heard of the thoughtful, well-constructed document called Five Wishes. It allows an individual to decide their desired quality end-of-life plan and includes an easy-to-complete form for recording those decisions. Waiting until we are confronted with difficult medical decisions makes these decisions more difficult.

Explain that the term palliative care is a term in end-of-life treatment conversations that is often misunderstood. Palliative care means noninvasive medical treatment along with relief from pain. It is not the same as hospice care, although it is a part of hospice care, in that it allows a terminally ill person to die peacefully without pain.

Give each participant a copy of the Five Wishes booklet. Review the information in the guide; go over the guide’s purpose and legal status, and how to fill it out. Be specific in telling participants whether the document has legal standing in your state or whether it will serve only as a statement of your wishes and must be supplemented by a different legal document. Ask participants to begin completing it in pencil, completing it in ink only when they are sure how they want their finished document to read. Invite them to complete the booklet at home and share with a family member and their medical professional.