This is not another boring article on what a living will is, or how to plan one. This is about a new kind of idea called aging with dignity. It goes much further than a living will or advanced directive. It addresses what you wish for the present should something happen to you, how you wish to be treated in the meantime, and what you wish to happen should you decide to check out of planet earth early. This is a new plan for your choice about your care as you grow older. It began in the state of Florida, and has since expanded nationally. It is now legal in 40 states. It is called The Five Wishes.
The Five Wishes was begun by a gentleman who had direct contact with Mother Theresa. His name is Jim Towey. He lived and worked in a hospice center that Mother Theresa ran in Washington, D.C. back in the 1980’s. He saw that the present living wills and directives, were not working for most people, as they did not address all the issues of the elderly, but merely those who were terminally ill. Mr. Towey, being a native of Florida, brought his idea back to the area when he moved back. He formed a group called Aging with Dignity. People in Florida and Georgia were so impressed with what Mr. Towey was trying to do, that the local hospices saw a need for a document to support his Five Wishes idea about aging with dignity. So with their help, Mr. Towey contacted the American Bar Association for their advice in writing the perfect Five Wishes plan that would take laws into consideration. The five areas and what they entail follow.
Wish 1) The person I want to make care decision for me when I can’t. Of course this is regarding who your guardian or overseer of your affairs should be. I have a friend, whose Mother recently took a turn for the worse after a stroke. She has lived for a year and is slowly recuperating, but in the meantime, someone needed to make decisions about her care and her finances. Wish 1 covers that area.
Wish 2) The kind of medical treatment I want or don’t want. Thanks goodness my friend’s Mother, before she got so ill, had written a Five Wishes directive. She made it clear that she wanted all life sustaining care as long as she lived. This is of course a personal choice, but what would have happened to the family making the decision, if she had not made her wishes known.
Wish 3) How comfortable I wish to be. This goes into detail listing what care the person wants. It includes the wish to receive medication, have warm baths, daily care, to having daily interaction with someone, such as a therapist or social worker, if the family is not available. Many people think this refers only to palliative care. This goes much further, including all aspects of the persons comfort.
Wish 4) How I want people to treat me. Seems that wish four and five are connected. This has more to do with our rights as human beings to be treated with dignity and respect. It makes a statement that a person has the right to be cared for with kindness instead of sadness. It also states that the person has every right to keep personal belongings in their possession at all times. I think this is a wonderful idea, because too many times, hospitals and nursing homes take items away from people claiming it is medically necessary.
Wish 5) What I want my loved ones to know. This is sort of a final statement to leave with people. It states that any old wounds from the past are forgiven. It says that everyone has the right to die peacefully, but if the family has problems dealing with the death, it is the wish of the deceased family member for the family to seek counseling. Then at the last, are wishes for funeral and burial. Also, it includes a wish for what you want your memorial service to be like. This is more like the regular elements of living will or directive.
Most living wills or directives only go as far as stating as what should be done if the person is dying, and what is to be done after they pass away. I love the idea of the Five Wishes, because it is not a living will per say. It takes the idea a step further. As Mr. Towey stated, it is a wish for a respectful life, no matter what age or state our health person might be in. As he desired, the Five Wishes program guarantees that we age with dignity.
You can get your own copy by calling the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, located in Princeton, New Jersey, or by contacting your local family doctor, hospital, or hospice center. I received mine at the local drugstore. I believe this is a wonderful document. Life is a gift, so we all need to make sure we have our wishes about our dignity known. No one should be without the Five Wishes.