Understanding Your End-of-Life Options

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End-of-life care is provided to a person who is dying with the goal of reducing pain as much as possible and improving their quality of life while respecting the person’s wishes. End-of-life care needs will vary from person to person. Those suffering from cognitive losses will need a different approach from someone whose body weakens but the mind remains strong, for example. Some suffer from terminal illnesses while others approach death due to natural causes. Some lose their health rapidly while others linger for long periods of time.

No matter how a person approaches the end of their life, they’ll need patient-centered health care and emotional support from health care professionals and their family and friends. If someone close to you is dying, it’s important to realize that there are options for medical care and finances. Speaking with a doctor about preferences and values early on is key to making sure your loved one’s end-of-life experience lines up with their wishes. Here are some of the most common options chosen to help patients afford care plans, fulfill patient needs, and make them as comfortable as possible at the end of their journeys.

Viatical Settlements

While similar to selling a life insurance policy, a viatical settlement contract is specifically offered to those with chronic illnesses. Generally speaking, these illnesses must be terminal, and most viatical settlements are offered to those with an estimated life expectancy of two to four years. Viatical settlement transactions are when the insured of a life insurance policy (the viator) sells their life insurance to a third party. The purchase will be for less than the full death benefit but greater than the cash surrender value.

Viatical settlements offer advantages over life settlements for qualifying policyholders in that the payout is completely tax-free, immediately available, and there are no restrictions on how the payout can be used. While viatical settlements are often used as means to pay medical expenses or to afford patient care, they could also be used to allow family members to take time off to spend with the ill patient, pay other debts, or pursue any other avenues that will increase the ‘s quality of life.

Hospice Care

Hospice care focuses specifically on the quality of life rather than longevity. It’s meant to help patients who suffer terminal illnesses and their caregivers to live as comfortably as they can. Those qualifying for hospice care generally have a life expectancy of six months or less. Efforts are made to accept the idea of death and make the transition from life to death as easy as possible, rather than trying to cure the illness. Interestingly, research suggests that patients often live longer when receiving hospice or palliative care, possibly due to better management of symptoms. Since hospice care is family-oriented, it’s often received at home.

In cases of extreme and constant pain, patients may undergo palliative sedation. This process must be recommended by a doctor after observing all symptoms, and it basically means that a patient is sedated to reduce consciousness until death. This is intended to relieve the majority of pain, although it may not relieve all symptoms.

Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED)

A patient’s free will and right to choose are amongst the most important aspects of maintaining dignity and quality of life. A mentally sound dying person has the right to refuse medical treatment and intervention (including receiving food and drink) if they choose to do so. A patient making this choice will need 24-hour care as their body begins to weaken, and they may experience other symptoms like increased confusion or agitation. Family members may find this choice difficult to accept, and it’s recommended for ill patients to take a psychological evaluation to rule out conditions like depression affecting the choice.

There are eight states that allow for Medical Aid in Dying including Oregan, Washington, California, Montana, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, and New Jersey. In this scenario, the patient is prescribed medication they can choose to use to cause a peaceful death. Some patients are comforted just by knowing they have the choice, even if they don’t intend to use it.

Ultimately, there are many options for receiving care once a patient is past the curative treatment stages. Families will need to think carefully about what options make the most sense for them.

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