Dorothy Ellen Palmer is currently writing a regular digital column for Broadview while in isolation during COVID-19.
Pondering end-of-life decisions is difficult at the best of times. In a pandemic, it can make these worst of times feel even more frightening. But COVID-19 can strike with terrifying speed and many hospitals have a “no visitors” policy. There may be no chance for any of us to say good-bye or express deathbed wishes.
I have good reason to fear that happening to me: I’m a disabled senior in a time of rapidly rising eugenics. Responding to an expected lack of ventilators, hospitals around the globe are penning protocols that treat the lives of seniors and disabled people as less valuable than younger, abled lives. I’m terrified that if I fall ill, I won’t get a ventilator, or may be taken off one if a younger, abled patient needs one. Accordingly, it is even more important for disabled people and seniors to make our end-of-life decisions known.
When I stared my fear in its face, I discovered that making end-of-life choices well ahead of time actually makes things a little less frightening. But I’m no expert on death and dying, so please consult legal and medical professionals when crafting your directives. The personal questions I’m sharing here are simply those I struggled with myself.
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What do I really want?
I began by collecting my thoughts. I made the decision to put myself first, to centre my own beliefs and wishes, not what others might want. I separated those decisions I wanted to make alone from those I wanted to make in consultation with doctors, faith leaders, family or friends. I decided that sharing or not sharing are both fine. Any choice I made was right for me.
Are my affairs in order?
I made a legal will two years ago in preparation for open-heart surgery. I found legal forms online that were not complex or time consuming. Before my surgery, I also researched companies where I can pre-plan and pre-pay my last wishes. I discovered I could pre-arrange my funeral in any detail I might like, and leave directions for my remains and my resting place. Making these decisions myself gave me surprising clarity and comfort.
Should I fall ill with COVID-19, am I ready?
Hoping I’d never need it, I prepared a small emergency bag for the hospital. I packed a change of clothes, toiletries and three days of medication. I included an information sheet listing my name, full address, health care number, my doctors’ contact information, a full list of my medications and the details of my contact person.
How do I feel about a Do Not Resuscitate Order, known as a DNR?
This question is critically important for people like me who may score lower in hospital protocols. I decided that no one has a duty to die. I believe every life has value and do not want anyone else deciding that my life has less value than others. I wrote a short personal statement saying I do not agree to a DNR order based on my age or disability, got it witnessed, gave a copy to my contact person and put a copy in my emergency bag.
How do I want to share my end-of-life choices with my loved ones?
I felt so much better when I gave myself permission to believe that there is no right or wrong way to do this. So as not to overwhelm my adult children, I did it bit by bit, using different formats for different things: emails, phone calls or group chats. Then I gathered all my wishes and paperwork in one place and told them where to find the brown manila envelope with their names on it.
None of this was easy, but I’m thankful it’s done. I’ve come to see making end-of-life decisions as a double gift — one I give myself and others. It’s a gift of self-love to make my own final choices. Assuming that responsibility frees my family from having to make rushed, painful decisions when they are grieving. It is perhaps the greatest of gifts to make both life and death a little easier for those we love.
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