Before You Get Sick, Have the Talk

"I was faced with a series of cascading decisions for which I felt unprepared and blindsided," said Goodman, whose mother had never laid out her desires. "I sure wish I could have heard her voice in my ear as I was going through this process."

Polls consistently show that most people say it's important to put their end-of-life issues in writing, but most have not done so. "It's [always] too soon," said Goodman, "until it's too late."

Mo Jennings and her family participated in an end-of-life conversation that aired on World News with Diane Sawyer. She wanted to have that talk with her family and elderly father, after her mother died from cancer last year. Jennings' mother did have a living will, which covered some circumstances, but she had never had the broader conversation about her medical wishes with her children. That meant agonizing choices on whether to stop IV fluids and let her mother slip away.

"I know we made the right decisions," said Jennings. Yet as she later said in a talk to hospital administrators: "How I wish now that my mom could have talked to all of us … to reassure all of us that it was O.K. for her to go."

Kottkamp hopes families will use April 16 as an excuse to select a health care surrogate and begin these heart-to-heart conversations.

"It's really not just end-of-life stuff," he said, "The reality is people can get into a car accident or have a heart attack at any age."

Then, if the worst happens, there will be someone standing by to do what's best.

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