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With no advance directives, they’re treated as needed. Death is kept at bay as long as medically possible.

Haselhorst says that we’ve come to view death as a medical condition, or something that can be treated. He wrote the book to help people come to terms with their own wishes, and to guide them in sorting those decisions out before they’re in a dire situation. “There’s a point that we should not treat medical conditions and allow people to complete their journey,” says Haselhorst, who practices medicine in Arizona.

In order to receive compassionate end-of-life care, Haselhorst says people should be proactive and write down a list of questions to ask the doctor and empower themselves. Here are five questions he says patients should ask their doctors.

  1. Is this test medical really necessary? Because a patient’s time and financial resources are limited, it can be helpful to ask whether a test is really necessary, and skip those that aren’t. Haselhorst says that many medical professionals won’t hesitate to order a whole battery of tests to try and pinpoint a problem, unless the patient directs them otherwise.
  2. Can you feel and understand my pain? Doctors and nurses ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of one to 10. The challenge, however, is that pain is relative, and one person’s expression of pain, based solely on a number, may not adequately communicate to the doctor how that person is feeling. That, in turn, could impact the treatment plan. By expanding the conversation beyond a number, a patient may help ensure that the doctor comprehends the depth of his or her pain and respond accordingly.
  3. What am I to do next? What is the plan of action? Haselhorst says that patients will often claim, “The doctor never told me anything.” That, he says, is rarely the case. But the onus is on the patient to understand--and carry out--the healthcare provider's instructions. The patient should repeat the doctor’s orders back to him or her to make sure they understand the next steps.
  4. Am I dying? How long do I have to live? In order to get a straight answer, this is something the patient must ask, says Haselhorst. Many patients assume that the doctor will share this information, but he says some healthcare professionals seek to shield their patients from this answer unless directly questioned. 
  5. Can you offer me spiritual guidance please? Can you respect my wishes to die with dignity in my own way? As a patient approaches the end of his or her life, there may be questions that arise regarding the death process. It’s up to the patient to make his or her wishes known to the doctor, as well as friends and family. “Your dignity can be recognized if you tell the people around you to appreciate who you are spiritually, first and foremost,” says Haselhorst. “It is your right.”

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