In just about every series of discussions in congregations we eventually come to those conversations about advance planning and the challenges of end of life care. The constant push of medical technology has made these conversations ever more important. Over the past few years, there has been a growing recognition of National Health Care Decision Day. April 16 emerged as a day that has been designated as one to have focus on our own advance planning. Yes, the date is purposeful as it arrives the day after tax day. But more important is the desire to encourage individuals and families to begin “the conversation” about what our wishes are as life ebbs. Part of this is the creation of a plan, a health care power of attorney and the like. More and more states are recognizing the POLST (Physicians Order for Life Sustaining Treatment) form. More congregations are instituting annual forums on a Jewish approach to end of life decision-making, something that our people MUST know so they can be informed from tradition’s perspective. In the USA, this is of greater importance given the rise in the passage of medical aid in dying legislation (N.J. joined that list this month). Likewise in Canada, where a similar law exists on a national level.
There is a wealth of possible resources to assist in these conversations. AARP has information. The Conversation Project has tools and forms. There is the “5 Wishes” form. On our web site you can download the “A Time to Prepare” document that contains a life data section as well as appropriate forms and POLST forms. If you wish to see that, just go to the top of this page, look for Resources, click on that and download “A Time To Prepare”. Recently, Rabbi Jason Weiner, chaplain at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles developed a form that is also based on Jewish tradition. You can get that form by going to http://rabbiweiner.com/advance-directive/
Let me remind all of us that this is not an easy conversation. You may be met (as I have been in my situation) with denial and a desire to push back. This is, in a way, a dance. It may take time to lay the foundation for the conversation. However, each of us can begin on our own by looking at the se forms, having a conversation with our own self and trying to determine what we wish. That may be a good way to come to our family. Also, we have learned, that these forms/documents need to be reviewed every 4 to 5 years as the technology changes and, often, our wishes do as well. Finally, when these forms are complete, they need to be shared with your family, physician, clergy and the like and not just filed away or placed in the safe deposit box.
These are, as we said, challenging conversations. Yet, for many families, they become invaluable in that they create a clear understanding of what we wish and can alleviate difficult decisions when and if the time comes for those decisions to be acted upon.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.