A California company wants you to Facebook chat with a robot about your death

Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

Talking about the end of life is tough. For younger people, often less mindful of life’s fragility, it can be even more difficult.

Now, a company called LifeFolder is hoping that people reluctant to think about their own mortality may be more willing if they were speaking to someone with infinite patience, time and understanding.

Maybe a robot.

Emily is a free messenger bot for Facebook that launched in Georgia this July. Its purpose? To chat with you about your inevitable demise.

“A conversation with Emily mirrors a conversation you would have with a trained nurse,” said LifeFolder CEO Haje Jan Kamps.

“Nothing unites us as much as the inevitability of death, and yet, more than two thirds of Americans haven’t planned for what they want at the end of their lives,” he said. “The bot outlines and explains the decisions a user has to make, and helps people complete the relevant legal paperwork to prepare for end of life.”

Here’s how it works:

Emily starts by asking you for you name and email, and then begins talking you through the process.

“Take your time,” she says. “If you believe that what we are talking about is stressful, take a couple of deep breaths.”

She asks about what you value. If you could never communicate with your friends and family ever again, what would you do? What if you had to be connected to a machine at all times? What if you were in a permanent coma?

These and other questions help Emily create forms that specify what you would prefer in the event that you cannot make decisions for yourself. Those documents can help a proxy, whom you nominate, figure out what you would want done in a medical situation. You can also set up whether or not you want to donate your organs if all hope of recovery is lost.

It’s a tough conversation to have, but Donna Morgan, senior vice president of clinical operations at Columbus Hospice, says she is a strong supporter of the chat service, and that she believes most hospice and palliative care operators would be as well.

“That’s what we work with most of the time, actually, is helping people make these decisions. Often, when they get to us, they’re suddenly making them under duress, and without a lot of options,” she said.

“The only thing I would advise is that if a person does do this on their own, they need to share those decisions with other people. They need to pull them out and say ‘Mom, dad, honey, let’s talk about some things I’ve given some thought to. It may be a little bumpy, but it at least gets people thinking and reflecting on it.”

Shoshana Ungerleider, MD and principal of the Ungerleider Palliative Care Education Fund, also said that most people wait too long before thinking about their end-of-life wishes.

“The problem is, by the time they see me in the hospital, they are often very ill and it is incredibly difficult to have an in depth conversation,” she said.

“I'm thrilled to see more people talk about end of life both to the chatbot, and to each other because this is a really a conversation about how we can all live more fully!”

You can start a conversation with Emily at http://L-F.io/emily, and find more information at http://life-folder.com.

Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE