Susan Johnson was never afraid to talk about death. But whenever she tried to discuss her end-of-life wishes with her children, both in their 40s, they deflected the topic with jokes. And her primary care doctor never raised the issue.
Then, a few years ago, a surgical complication left Johnson hospitalized for months. She felt death close by, and it scared her. When she recovered and returned home to Salem, N.H., she invited her son and daughter for an Italian dinner, followed by a mandatory conversation — one with no jokes allowed.
These are some of the toughest conversations a person can have, and many never get there. For Johnson, a serious illness emboldened her to break through the barriers. She told her family that if she were incapacitated, she did not want to be resuscitated.
Advocates for better end-of-life care are hopeful that such conversations will happen sooner, and more frequently, when a new Medicare rule takes effect.
Earlier this month, the federal health program for the elderly proposed to start paying physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to talk with patients about their end-of-life wishes. Details of the plan are expected later this year, with possible adoption next year.
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