“Give me liberty or give me death!” was Patrick Henry’s rallying call to the War of Independence between Great Britain and America – it lasted eight years. The United States declared its independence on July 4th, 1776 in large part to object to King George III’s control over the colonies and his unwillingness to take the colonist’s complaints seriously. The colonists wanted autonomy. A decade later, this declaration of independence was codified in the United States Constitution, establishing the basic structure of a Federal Government. Five years later, the Bill of Rights, or the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, secured citizen rights and limits on the Federal Government’s authority.
Seniors: The First & Fourth Amendments
The First and Fourth Amendments are the most discussed rights of the people in nonjudicial discussions. First Amendment freedoms include the right to practice religion, assemble, publish (freedom of the press), speak, and petition the government. The government cannot pass laws that violate these individual rights. The Fourth Amendment precludes the government from overreaching into the lives of Americans, demanding citizens be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” These are the basis of our privacy rights and require the government to have probable cause and narrowly drafted Warrants before these rights can be violated. These individual rights and government restrictions focus on preserving personal autonomy.
Americans consider autonomy and their personal freedoms among their most sacred rights. But what happens when we get old and start to lose our faculties. Can we truly be autonomous with dementia or Alzheimers?
Carmen and I started CarePlanIt, in part, because we kept witnessing and hearing stories about the gap between what aging seniors said they wanted versus what they got. Almost every aging senior we spoke with expressed a desire to die at home, yet only about 25% did. The rest passed in hospitals or nursing homes. Also, almost every aging senior we spoke with said they weren’t interested in prolonging life if they had trouble recognizing those around them or their living required round-the-clock care from others. Yet, we found that about 90% of aging seniors in this condition kept living by prolonging their life, often through extraordinary medical interventions. What these seniors had in common were no plans or inadequate plans.
Wrong Plan, No Plan, You May Lose Your Autonomy
Without the right plans, seniors can have their autonomy taken away. When this happens, others determine what medical treatments you get, where you live, and how you can spend your money. As many as 75% of Americans don’t get to die where they want to die. As many as 50% of Americans are reliant on their family for their basic needs. Half of Americans fear being placed in a nursing home. As many as 90% of Americans in their 60’s would never consent to live the way they do at their time of death. Perhaps you’ve heard a friend or relative say, “If I ever get like that, shoot me.” They’re usually referring to a situation where a senior has lost their autonomy or lives in circumstances they don’t like.
American rights and freedoms come with responsibilities. At CarePlanIt, we’ll help you and your family plan so you can live the end of your life the way you want, not the way you fear. It’s your right. A little planning can let you and your family cherish the last years of your life. Carmen and I are not talking about euthanasia, simply about living your final years consistent with your wishes. You don’t have to start a war or ask someone you love to commit a felony. You simply need to make a few plans.