Making End of Life Decisions:
A Real Life Example

Making end of life decisions can't be easy. You'll need a framework of understanding to be able to talk to your aging parents and to get your own perspectives out of the way. What you might choose, and what may be important in their decision-making could be very different things without your ever realizing it.

The following video clip is from the PBS Documentary, Consider the Conversation. In it, Dr. Martin Welsh, an ALS patient was shown going through his day, with an audio of his reflections on making end of life decisions. By this time, his voice has been severely distorted by the disease and the clip includes a voice-over. Dr. Welsh died in 2010.

You can read Dr. Welsh's LA Times essay, 100 Things leading to a single choice.

Why would you need to talk to your parents about end of life decisions?

Someday, they may not be able to speak for themselves.

If you are their medical power of attorney, it would be your duty to talk to their doctors and make the choices and decisions that your parents would have made for themselves. Filling out the forms is not enough. You'll need to know what they believe, what they value, what they need to make their life worth living. Those are the things that form the backdrop to conversations and decisions about medical procedures or medications or treatments. You can't have truly informed consent in the medical context, until you understand what's truly important and of value in their everyday life.

Doctors and medical professionals don't necessarily feel equipped to have these difficult conversations either. It may be up to you to take the lead with your parents, with their doctors, and have the conversations that may make all the difference in their quality of life until the end.

How do you talk to your parents about end of life decisions?

Setting the TEMPO will be critical for these talks. Having the time, creating a safe space. Letting them know you are on the same team and you only want to be a champion for what's important to them.

This is definitely a time when you will have to search deeply into you own heart and soul, and be clear about the things that could get in your own way. Your goal is to listen. Your desire is to understand. And your purpose is to carry our THEIR wishes. What you may want could be very different than what they may choose. What you might decide for yourself could be radically opposed to what they express. But this is NOT about you. Your grief, your desires, your hopes and wishes, you will get to express -- for yourself, with your doctors, to your children. But this is now a conversation about your mother's life. About your dad's values. About being able to be authentically their voice, their mouthpiece, until the end.

End of Life Planning

Begin to talk about end of life planning with aging parents. Estate planning, advance directives, finances, their pets? What do you need to know?

End of Life Issues

Stephen Kiernan, author of Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System is interviewed in an upcoming PBS documentary urging people not to resist looking at the "don't know". What do we do when we know?

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Recommended by

PBS Documentary:
Consider the Conversation


To date, Consider the Conversation has won eleven awards including:

  • 2013 Touching Lives Award - Horizon Home Care & Hospice
  • Award of Excellence in End-of-Life Care - Agrace HospiceCare
  • Award of Excellence: Use of Film/Video for Social Change - Best Shorts Competition
  • Award of Excellence: Short Documentary - The Accolade
  • Silver Award of Excellence: Best Documentary or News Special - 82nd Annual Milwaukee Press Club Awards for Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism
  • Award of Merit: Use of Film/Video for Social Change - Indie Fest
  • Award of Merit: Short Documentary - Best Shorts Competition
  • Award of Merit: Concept - The Accolade
  • Award of Merit: Direction - Best Shorts Competition
  • Award of Merit: Viewer Impact: Content/Message Delivery - The Accolade
  • Award of Merit: Viewer Impact: Content/Message - Best Shorts Competition

"Consider the Conversation:
Wisconsin Premiere - a Rousing Success"

I got to attend the premiere on February 5th. What these filmmakers have created is amazing. The theater was packed -- and afterward -- a standing ovation. Here's one of the comments from an audience member that the filmmakers received. - Rev. Dale

"I went to see Mike Bernhagen and Terry Kaldhusdal's documentary CONSIDER THE CONVERSATION tonight, and I was blown away. I was expecting to see some healthcare professionals giving some useful tips about hospice care and death and dying. Instead I saw a profoundly moving and poignant look at facing death and how we can all help each other go out the way we would want to go out.

I was expecting to be seated in a classroom with 80 other people. Instead I arrived to a sold out show with an audience of nearly a thousand, many of whom I could hear quietly crying at the end of the movie. It is brilliant, thought provoking, and dare I say it, comforting. I stand in awe of what you two have done. Seriously, BRAVO!!!"