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How to Discuss End-of-Life Care

How to Discuss End-of-Life Care

Friends with coffee relaxing together

Timely Conversations
Talking about your healthcare wishes with your family is a gift. Our collection below of recommended conversation starters can help you learn how to make end-of-life decisions and discuss them with your loved ones.

Quick Links

End-of-Life Conversation Starters & Resources

Great discussion on NPR with host Diane Rehm about end-of-life wishes and were to start. Featuring  Rosemary Gibson, Bud Hammes, and Jessica Zitter.
Click here to start listening >>

AARP – Advanced Planning Glossary >>This provides explanations of some legal terms you may find helpful in thinking, talking about, and documenting your wishes through pain, serious illness, and end of life.

BBC Radio – We Need to Talk about Death >> Listen to episodes on all topics about death including fears, pain, what to expect, burial, body donation, death in the digital world, and much more.

Goals of Care Coalition >> Samaritan’s community partner provides valuable resources to help you have conversations about your healthcare wishes with your healthcare providers.

Conversation of Your Life >> Conversation of Your Life is a South Jersey Mayors Wellness Campaign program that focuses on engaging communities in fruitful dialogue—the Conversation of Your Life—to let individuals’ family, friends, or doctors understand and respect their end-of-life wishes through advance care planning. Conversation of Your Life is generously supported by The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.

Conversations of a Lifetime >>  Learn how to talk about end of life.

Click here to read tips about how to discuss end-of-life care with someone who doesn’t want to talk about it.

The Conversation Project >>
The Conversation Project has fostered a grassroots public campaign to make it easier to initiate conversations about dying, and to encourage people to talk now, and as often as necessary, so that their wishes are known when the time comes. The project’s user-friendly site offers a downloadable end-of-life conversation starter kit and other resources.


Your Life Wishes – It starts with a conversation. >>
Whether it’s a baby on the way or your retirement plans, a family vacation, or your child’s college fund, having confidence in responding to whatever life brings you is often a matter of simple, timely and thoughtful preparation. Your approach to your own medical needs should be no different.

National Institute of Health – Preparing for End of Life >>
Few of us are comfortable talking about death, whether our own or a loved one’s. It is a scary, even taboo, subject for many. The end of a life, no matter how long and well lived, can bring with it a sense of loss and sadness. It can also be a reminder of our own mortality, so we may avoid even thinking about death. This is normal — but death is normal, too. All of us will face it at some point …

Go Wish >>
Go Wish is a card game that helps you find words to talk about what is important if you or a loved one should find yourself living a life shortened by serious illness. Playing the game with your relatives or best friends can help you deal with how to make end-of-life decisions and how you can best comfort your loved ones when they need you most.

Deathwise >>
Deathwise is passionate about motivating people to talk about, make decisions, plan for the end of their lives and then documenting their wishes in an advance directive to ensure their preferences are communicated to their medical services providers, family and friends.  Wise Conversations >>

Prepare For Your Care >>
PREPARE is a website that uses videos and stories to teach people how to identify their values and goals for medical care and to make medical decisions.

Advance Directive Forms

New Jersey Living Will & Durable Power of Attorney Forms >>

New Jersey Department of Health>>

Download Your State’s Advance Directive >>

POLST – Practitioners Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment >>
The Practitioners Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form helps patients with a life-limiting illness, in collaboration with their health care provider, to identify goals of care and preferences for treatment. POLST is for people who are facing a life-limiting illness. This form is a compliment to, not a replacement of, your advance directive. | Watch NJ POLST videos |

NEW emPOLST – Using Electronic Mobile Technology – Click here to check it out!

Five Wishes >>

Free Living Will Workshops for Seniors – Offered by Camden County NJ – More Info >>

Samaritan offers free presentations for community groups about the importance of having end-of-life conversations. Inquire today! >>

A speaker discussing how to begin the end-of-life conversation

Documentaries to Watch

Frontline’s Being Mortal: Explores relationships between doctors and their patients nearing end of life. Follows writer and surgeon Atul Gawande as he delves into the relationships doctors have with patients are dying.

Netflix’s ExtremisWitness the wrenching emotions that accompany end-of-life decisions as doctors, patients and families in a hospital ICU face harrowing choices.

Consider the Conversation 1: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject: provides a 360-degree view on end-of-life care. It features the perspectives of three terminally ill patients in their 50’s and the professionals who typically care for these kinds of people – doctors, nurses, social workers and clergy – as well as several leading national experts. Consider the Conversation does not provide the viewer with any particular answer – it’s not a hospice film, for example, and it’s certainly not a film that advocates for physician assisted death. Instead, it provides something far more important than an answer – some of the questions we all need to think about and answer for ourselves.

Consider the Conversation 2: Stories about Cure, Relief and Comfort:  highlights the value of palliative care and shows viewers what end-of-life conversations with medical professionals look like, sound like, and feel like. It features the perspectives of seriously ill patients from a variety of backgrounds as well as the doctors who care for them. The primary goal of this film is to demonstrate that communication is a skill on par with the clinical skills of diagnosis, treatment and prognostication – something medical professionals can teach, learn, and use for therapeutic benefit.


Listen to these helpful and informative podcasts that discuss end-of-life care and explore what matters most at the end of life.

Atul Gawande: “Being Mortal – Medicine and What Matters Most at the End” discussion with NPR host Diane Rehm (2014)

Living A Good Life -To The Very End, Wisconson Public Radio (2014) – A coversation with Dr. Atul Gawande about doing more to help people live good lives as they approach death.

Reading Suggestions


PBS NewsHour – Why is it so difficult to talk about death? >>

NY Times  – Teenagers Face Early Death on Their Terms >>

NY Times – The Trouble With Advance Directives >>

Readers Digest – 16 Smart Things People Do to Prepare for Death >>



More great books to read >>

Planned Giving Resources

The Importance of Estate Planning >> Your estate is comprised of everything you own. No matter how large or small, you can’t take your care, your investments, your real estate or more with you when you die. Estate planning is when you anticipating and arranging the management and disposal of all those items at and after death, while minimizing gift, estate, generation skipping transfer, and income tax.

A Plan to Match Your Goals >> Review a charitable estate planning chart to compare your goals with different type of giving and benefits.

Your Will >>  Read about the importance of hiring a professional versus using an online do-it-yourself kit to help you and your family plan for death and the distribution of your assets. 

Gifts of Stock >>  Learn more about this flexible planning tool that allows you to take a charitable tax deduction for the market value of the stock, and neither you, nor the charity, has to pay capital-gains taxes when the stock is sold.

The Charitable Gift Annuity >>
A charitable gift annuity is when a donor makes a lump sum gift to a charity, with the gift being used to purchase an annuity. The annuity would pay the donor a fixed percentage of the gift each year during their lifetime, with the remaining value of the annuity paid to the charity after the donor’s death.

IRA Charitable Rollover >>
Making a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from you IRA reduces your taxable income.

Charitable Trusts >> A charitable trust is a set of assets — usually liquid — that a donor signs over or uses to create a charitable foundation. The assets are held and managed by the charity for a specified period of time, with some or all interest that the assets produce going to the charity.

Gifts of Cash >> Learn helpful tips about the safest ways to make cash donations (check, credit card) to charity.

Life Insurance and Charitable Giving >> Learn more about how life insurance allows you to make a substantial gift to charity at relatively little cost to you

Donor Advised Funds >>   Put your Donor Advised Fund (DAF) to work in your community, and consider “bundling” your contributions to recoup a charitable deduction.

Catholic Community Resources

POLST Orders are Not Dangers (PDF)

POLST Reflects Patient Wishes (PDF)

POLST Supports Care in Context of ERDs(PDF)

Learn more about Via Lucis, Samaritan’s Ministry for Catholic Patients and Families >>


Jewish Community Resources

Advance Care Planning Toolkit (PDF)

Jewish Teachings
Making Decisions at the End of Life: An Approach from Sacred Jewish Texts (PDF)

Interview with Rabbi Elliot Dorff
Jewish Sacred Aging: Jewish Bioethics podcast with Rabbi Elliot Dorff >> 

NJ Study on Advance Care Planning Perceptions
Monmouth University Polling Insitute & NJ Health Care Quality Institute: Public comfortable with idea, but few are making plans (PDF)

Example of Jewish Community-wide Conference
Planning for End of Life (Texas Jewish Post) >>

Praise for End of Life Discussions
How Not to Die by Jonathan Rauch on Dr. Angelo Volandes (PDF)

Torah Study Idea | Resource
Reading Parashat Shelach Lecha alongside Dr. Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal (Center for Jewish End of Life Care) (PDF)

Conference on “Health, Mortality and Morality: Jewish Perspectives”
Dying Raises New Issues Today >>

Suggested Readings
Suggested Readings (PDF)

Learn more about Sukkat Shalom, Samaritan’s Jewish Hospice program for patients and families. >>