Volume 24, Number 2, Summer 2013


“He Got His Last Wishes”: Ways of Knowing a Loved One’s End-of-Life Preferences and Whether Those Preferences Were Honored

Angelina R. Wittich, Beverly Rosa Williams, F. Amos Bailey, Lesa L. Woodby, and Kathryn L. Burgio



As a patient approaches death, family members often are asked about their loved one’s preferences regarding treatment at the end of life. Advance care directives may provide information for families and surrogate decision makers; however, less than one-third of Americans have completed such documents. As the U.S. population continues to age, many surrogate decision makers likely will rely on other means to discern or interpret a loved one’s preferences. While many surrogates indicate that they have some knowledge of their loved one’s preferences, how surrogates obtain such knowledge is not well understood. Additionally, although research indicates that the emotional burden of end-of-life decision making is diminished when surrogates have knowledge that a loved one’s preferences are honored, it remains unclear how surrogates come to know these preferences were carried out. The current study examined the ways that next of kin knew veterans’ end-of-life preferences, and their ways of knowing whether those preferences were honored in Veteran Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) inpatient settings.


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