Talking to your doctor about end-of-life care

Apr 23, 2019, 2:38 PM | Updated: 2:42 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — According to a study by The Conversation Project, 90% of Americans believe that talking to their loved ones about end-of-life care is important. But the same study found that only 27% of respondents have actually had the conversation.

“It’s a difficult topic to talk about,” said Dr. Chad Bittner, speaking with KSL NewsRadio’s Maria Shilaos. “You are talking about how to make decisions for when you’re at the end of your life.”

In recognition of National Healthcare Decisions Week, Bittner joined Shilaos on last week’s episode of Let’s Get Moving with Maria to discuss end-of-life care and the conversations surrounding it.


It’s important to discuss and document your preferences for end-of-life care, Bittner said, for the benefit of both yourself and your loved ones.

“Things can change very quickly and put you in a situation where you can’t speak for yourself,” Bittner explained. “If you haven’t discussed this with others and written it down on paper as to what your wishes are, very few people, if any, are going to know what you want done.”

“That’s extremely stressful, not only for you, but for loved ones, family members and even your healthcare providers,” he continued.

If you haven’t considered or relayed your wishes in the event of an accident or unexpected decline, Bittner offered these tips.

Consider your wishes privately

“My advice is to first just start thinking about the conversation,” Bittner told Shilaos. “What do you want done in case you need life-sustaining treatment?”

Designate an advocate

“When you’re ready to sit down and have the conversation, choose an advocate, somebody you trust — maybe a family member or a trusted friend — to sit down and start having that conversation and put your thoughts together,” Bittner said.

Involving a family member or friend in your conversation is advantageous to you, Bittner explained, but also to that person — having direct insight into your end-of-life wishes can ease potential stress on them by equipping them to fulfill your desires more confidently.

“It’s important to start that conversation before you even sit down with your doctor so you have an understanding of what you want done and what your family members’ decision-making process is going to be,” Bittner said.

Use forms to guide your conversation with your doctor

When you are ready to speak with your doctor, Bittner recommended using one of several forms to guide the conversation. The standard “Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment,” or POLST form, is an option, Bittner said, as is a less formal version on the Conversation Project’s website.

“It can help you start talking and walking through a more relaxed form to answer those questions and talk about what needs to be discussed,” Bittner said of the form.

Document your wishes

While end-of-life wishes are different than a will, it’s still important to keep them written down, Bittner said.

“If you’re in a situation where you can’t speak for yourself, someone is going to need to speak for you,” he said. “And in order to do that, they have to know what your wishes are.”

Bittner emphasized that writing your wishes down is not the same as setting them in stone, and that you can change them at any time.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind tomorrow or ten minutes from now,” he said. “It’s just about starting that conversation.”

Start conversations sooner rather than later

It’s fully appropriate to discuss these things with your adult children and even teens, Bittner said.

“When you’re younger, you think you’re invincible. You think ‘this is never going to happen to me,’ or ‘I’m never going to be in one of these situations.’ But an accident can occur at any moment,” Bittner said. “It’s never too early to start talking about these things.”

You can listen to the full episode here or subscribe to the podcast here.


We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories


FILE - A doctor loads a dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at ...
Aimee Cobabe

Bill banning vaccine passports heading to Utah Senate

A bill to ban vaccine passports is heading out of the Utah House and into the Utah Senate. The bill is similar to a failed bill from 2022.
2 days ago
A bill on transgender healthcare — banning transgender-related surgeries and puberty blockers for...
Eliza Pace, KSL TV and Aimee Cobabe, KSL NewsRadio

Utah Senate approves changes to transgender care bill, passes on to Gov. Cox

SB16 bans gender-confirming surgeries for minors and also places a moratorium on puberty blockers for minors.
5 days ago
Havasu Falls spills into the water pools below in Supai, Arizona, in October of 2016. Photo credit:...
Forrest Brown, CNN

Grand Canyon’s Havasu Falls to reopen to visitors after 3-year closure

 (CNN) — Havasu Falls, one of the most intriguing features of the Grand Canyon system, will be reopening to visitors after a three-year closure caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But it’s with a catch. The reopening is scheduled for February 1; however, access will be limited initially to a certain, small group. People whose previous […]
5 days ago
White carnations representing each of the 1,746 unborn babies that were aborted in Utah in 2022 are...
Allessandra Harris and Simone Seikaly

Speeches, silence, during Pro-Life Utah memorial at the Capitol

About 100 people including Utah lawmakers and religious leaders attended the memorial on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.
6 days ago
 A mental health clinic will reopen on Thursday after a carbon monoxide leak sent at least 17 peop...
Michael Locklear

Carbon monoxide poisoning at central Utah clinic hospitalizes 17 people

The Central Utah Counseling Center in Ephraim was evacuated a week ago after a problem with an old furnace was discovered.
7 days ago
a row of guns are pictured...
Mark Jones

KSL at Night: How do we solve gun violence?

KSL at Night hosts Taylor Morgan and Maura Carabello speak with Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council about gun violence.
8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
Talking to your doctor about end-of-life care