The medical decision is just part of life’s equation.

June 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Ask Viki, Featured


So many people ask me what they should be thinking about when making medical decisions. Whether you are making your own decisions or having to make decisions for others, there is a lot to think about.

Your doctor or your loved one’s doctor will talk to you about the medical aspects of any health-related decision. But that doesn’t mean that you are limited to thinking only about medicine. It may be important to consider the financial costs associated with the treatment plan, if the patient’s religion should play a role in the decision and whether there are cultural issues that come into play. Think about the overall picture of your loved one’s life. In The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making, I offer lists of questions to help you understand the whole picture.

It would be nice for the decision to be as simple as asking, “Will the treatment work and what are the side effects?” But life isn’t that simple. What if you were about to make a medical decision that allowed something to be done to the person’s body that was forbidden by the person’s culture or religion? You might have chosen a certain treatment to save her life, but because the patient received that treatment, she will no longer be able to move on to the hereafter. Yes, the medical decision was a good one, but how the decision will affect the person’s life, based on her personal belief system, was not.

If the person you are making decisions for is very religious, then it would be good to find out if there are any religious rules or values that you should consider in your decision making. I know that when I work with my hospice patients, it is important to know if there are certain rites or blessings that have to be performed before the patient’s death. I don’t have to agree with what the person wants, but if I am the caregiver, then I need to do what I can to make sure the person’s religion or culture is respected. I will need to call in the appropriate religious leader to take care of the spiritual needs of this person. If the person is not religious or spiritual, then you will need to respect this and leave religion out of the decision making process.

For most people, the financial costs of the medical treatment will need to be considered or you may be putting the person in financial danger. You may be in charge of making only the healthcare decisions, but you should make sure that you or somebody else checks with the insurance company to find out whether or not it will pay for the treatment and to get the proper authorizations. Don’t let a simple mistake like forgetting to call the insurance company to let them know that your loved one was admitted to the hospital put your loved one in financial distress. Making decisions without using the financial questions could bankrupt your loved one. Our goal of protecting the person should include protecting his or her wallet.

For a list of questions you can use when making decisions, go to the resource page and download the list from the excerpts from The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making – Making Choices for Those Who Can’t.

Have a kind and respectful day.