Like the cycle of the seasons, death is part and parcel of human life. Preparing to die a peaceful and dignified death when the time comes, in as much as one can foresee and plan for it, may give you the necessary peace of mind to live life to the fullest now.

In days gone by death was accepted as part of everyday life. To die a peaceful death in one’s own home, surrounded by family and friends, was the norm. However, with the advancement of modern medicine it became possible not only to postpone the actual experience of death but also to keep people, who are “brain dead”, alive for considerable periods of time.

To be able to do this the dying person has to be connected to various medical machines such as ventilators and respirators. This makes dying a “dignified” death at home out of the question.

Of course modern medicine and doctors are not to be blamed for this predicament; after all, they are trained to save lives and not to give up until the last breath has been drawn – and for this we honour them.

However, many people prefer not to be kept alive by artificial means when it is clear that death is inevitable. Unfortunately, when the time comes, most are not in a position to make their wishes known and family and friends find it excruciatingly traumatic to have to decide for them.

If you, like countless others, would not like to be kept alive by artificial means when the time of death comes, you might consider drawing up a “Living Will”.

A living will might read something like this:

….. If the time comes when I can no longer take part in decisions for my own future, let this declaration stand as my directive. If there is no reasonable prospect of my recovery from physical illness or impairment expected to cause me severe distress or to render me incapable of rational existence, I do not give my consent to be kept alive by artificial means, and I request that I only receive whatever quantity of drugs and fluids as may be required to keep me free from pain or distress, even if the moment of death is hastened…..

You should seek the advice of a lawyer on the exact wording and document-content requirements although for most of us, a clearly written, signed, dated, witnessed (signatures of 2 named witnesses) document should suffice. Clarity is the only real requirement. It also helps, hugely, if your wishes have been clearly discussed with your family and next of kin and family doctor, so there is no doubt about what you want.

Of course these are complex matters and many will have moral, spiritual and religious views on this. We respect all of that and it is, of course, a personal choice to make, or not make. We just encourage readers to consider this option, which may prove helpful for many of us.

 Preparing a Living Will might not only give you peace of mind about the manner in which you wish to die but will also save your family and dear ones a lot of distress (and potentially huge hospital bills). However, don’t keep it a secret, tell your family and your doctor about your Living Will and leave a copy with each of them.

Author: Dr Colin Burns, retired medical practitioner and wellness coach