YOUNG people under 30 must discuss their dying wishes with their family amid the coronavirus pandemic, a doctor says.
Dr Asha Shajahan, who is treating Covid-19 patients, is urging people to have a conversation with their loved ones about what they would want if they became seriously unwell with the disease.
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It comes as medics from the World Health Organisation have said more young people are becoming critically ill with coronavirus, with increasing numbers needing intensive care.
Writing on HuffPost, Dr Shajahan said: "In my Covid-19 unit, patients have ranged from age 18 to 103. It’s doubtful the 18-year-old had thought much about her mortality prior to this.
"So while we are social distancing in our homes, it’s time to have that conversation that most of us have avoided ― or didn’t even know we needed to have."
She added: "Talking about death is horribly uncomfortable, but perhaps this pandemic is the harsh nudge we need."
It’s time to have that conversation that most of us have avoided
Dr Shajahan issued her advice after revealing earlier this week, a 30-year-old patient with Covid-19 had passed away on a ventilator on her ward.
She revealed how the young man hadn’t laid out his end-of-life wishes, meaning his father decided his son shouldn't have any further treatment that would prolong the inevitable.
On the other hand, the patient's mother had wanted to try everything that could possibly be done to save his life.
Dr Shajahan pointed out that if his family knew what his dying wishes were it would have saved them from this "heartbreaking conflict".
She added that out of the 55 patients on her Covid-19 unit in Detroit, only one had an advance care planning document.
Dr Shajahan recommends making an end-of-life plan, writing it down, and having it available to discuss with your doctor.
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She says it might also be worthwhile speaking to a lawyer and learning how to make your wishes legally sound so if there is any kind of dispute between family members, there will be a clear path forward.
Just last month, Macmillan Cancer Support recommended people discuss all possible scenarios with those close to them amid the coronavirus outbreak – even those we are not "comfortable to talk about".
Adrienne Betteley, from the charity, told the BBC: "It is never too early to have conversations about advance care plans.
"We need to encourage people to start talking about their wishes as soon as possible."
Advance care planning
The NHS describes advance care planning as a process of discussion on your views, preferences and wishes about your future care.
Dr Rachel Clarke, author and palliative care specialist, also said it was even more important to discuss advance care plans at this uncertain time.
She said: "Why would anyone want to contemplate their own mortality right now when everyone could be threatened?
"But it is precisely that uncertainty that makes this the most important time for advanced care planning.
"Really advanced care planning amounts to nothing more complicated than having a think – with your nearest and dearest – about what would matter to you if you became so sick that you may die.
"Are you the kind of person who would want to go to hospital, to intensive care or would you want to stay at home?"
Dr Clarke pointed out that if you don't have these conversations and the worst does happen, you might not know exactly what your relative wanted.
The WHO have said that while older people are worst affected, there has been an increase in young people dying from the disease.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s coronavirus technical lead, said: “We are seeing more and more younger individuals who are experiencing severe disease.”
Dr Van Kerkhove continued: “I should say, overall, most of the people who are experiencing severe disease and ending up in ICU are people of older age, and are people who have underlying conditions.
“But what we are seeing in some countries, individuals who are in their 30s, 40s and 50s who are in ICUs and have died."
She said that the WHO needs to “better understand” why young people were dying from coronavirus, adding “there are still many unknowns at this present time.”
The health experts’ warnings come as droves of youngsters have died from coronavirus in the UK in recent weeks.
These include Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, 13, and Luca Di Nicola, 19, who both passed away after becoming infected with the virus.
Ismail, from Brixton, first showed symptoms on March 26, and was rushed to King’s College Hospital after having trouble breathing.
His relatives said the following day he tested positive for Covid-19 and was put on a ventilator.
He died in the early hours of Monday morning, and his family said they were “beyond devastated.”
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Mr Di Nicola, a chef from Nereto in Italy, also had no underlying health conditions.
He was taken to North Middlesex Hospital in north London, but died 30 minutes later from fulminant pneumonia.
There are currently 138,078 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, and 18,738 have died.
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