Australia has given the world some really cool things. Kangaroos. Boomerangs. Crocodile Dundee. But none are as potentially more valuable than their “Dying to Know Day” on August 8th – “an annual day dedicated to bringing to life conversations and community actions around death, dying and bereavement.”
Sure, we Americans have National Healthcare Decisions Day every April 16th. Yet, the Aussies don’t beat around the bush with the name for their event. “Healthcare Decisions” may be more politically palatable. “Dying to Know” gets right to the heart of the matter. And this vital conversation doesn’t deserve vagueness and procrastination.
Make no mistake. America is a “procrasti-nation” when it comes to end-of-life planning. According to the “Dying in America” report from the Institute of Medicine, 90 percent of Americans believe it’s important to have an end-of-life discussion. But only 27 percent have actually had the conversation with their families.
Those who have had the conversation tend to be white, higher income and over 65. Older Americans are getting better at embracing the concept overall. Seniors who have living wills increased from 47 percent in 2000 to 72 percent in 2010.
Living wills, however, are only part of the picture. Having specific conversations with our family and our doctors about our exact end-of-life wishes – and documenting all those directives – are critical factors that remain missing for so many.
Now that Medicare is slated again to reimburse doctors for counseling patients on end-of-life planning, perhaps this issue will get a new spark. Many patients and families wait for a doctor to take the first step. For instance, national research conducted by Transcend Hospice Marketing Group shows that while about 85 percent of family healthcare decision makers say they would feel comfortable calling a hospice directly to discuss a loved one’s situation, only about 40 percent would do so without a doctor saying it’s time.
A variety of non-physician initiatives on this issue already exist in America. The Conversation Project and Death Cafes are two good examples. But having a specific day to put a stake in the ground and finally get around to having the conversation seems like a really good idea.
Have you had the end-of-life wishes discussion with your family? If you haven’t, your loved ones would be Dying to Know what you want should you suddenly be unable to speak for yourself. Give the gift of your end-of-life wishes to them. August 8th is as good a day as any. Thank you, Australia.