Part of every person’s life plan should include how he or she prefers to deal with health care. This goes beyond the financing of treatment and should include your own preferences as to how and when you want critical medical decisions made. Some of the decisions may need to be made while you are unable to speak or even be aware of issues. You need to consider what you want done if you are in a coma, if you are suffering severe pain, or if you are unable to do activities that are critical to your enjoyment of life.

Each of us has a favorite activity that we would not want to consider what life would be like if unable to do. For some the unbearable loss might be walking, for some being able to talk and think for oneself, and still others cooking or just doing for oneself may be a critical point when considering what decision to make in a medical treatment plan.

Often it is easier to not start medical treatment than it is to stop the treatment once it is started. These are very personal issues that will affect not only you but your spouse, children, and other loved ones.

According to a recent medical study, at least half of all terminally ill cancer patients who died during hospitalization experienced moderate or severe pain that was not adequately medicated during the last three days of life. In almost 90 per cent of the persons studied adequate medication could have relieved the pain.

Part of your life plan should include providing instructions to your health care agent and to your doctor about how aggressive the doctor should be in treating an injury or illness while you are terminally ill.

Some questions your agent should discuss with your doctor are:

  • Has the Doctor assessed your pain?

  • What is the plan for managing pain? (Be sure there is a plan).

  • Is round the clock pain medication proper in this case and, if so, it being provided?

  • If the pain medication orders are written “PRN” or “as needed” ask if this is appropriate, or whether round the clock pain medication would work better?

  • If round the clock pain medication is provided, will there be something provided for “breakthrough pain”?

  • How often will the patient’s pain level be assessed?

  • Will responsive action be promptly taken if the pain is present?

  • Is a pain specialist available to consult and will s/he be called in if good relief is not quickly forthcoming?

  • Is the patient eligible for hospice care and, if so, can this be arranged?

This topic is not a pleasant one, but it must be considered and acted upon if future medical care is to be provided on your terms and not someone else’s. And this is why it is important you have a current and valid Health Care Power of Attorney and Physician’s Directive (often called a living will). Talk about your care plan with your doctor(s) and with your family. Avoiding the subject can lead to heartache and potentially unnecessary pain for you or your family.

For more answers to your health care and pain management legal questions, contact elder care attorney Charles Kennedy by email at or call today.