No one wants to think of themselves lying in a hospital bed, unable to speak or make decisions. While that thought may be unpleasant, even worse is the idea of placing the burden of making care choices on family and loved ones. Fortunately, each of us has the ability to provide guidance to our health care providers and loved ones in the event of a medical crisis by making an advance directive.
Advance directives come in two main forms. A health care power of attorney designates a person of your choosing to make health care decisions on your behalf if you later become unable to decide for yourself. A living will documents what kinds of medical treatments you would or would not want at the end of life.
Estimates suggest that only about 25 percent of Americans currently have an advance directive. In recognition of this, the third annual National Health Care Decisions Day on April 16, 2010, strives to provide much-needed information to the public, reduce the number of tragedies that occur when a person’s wishes are unknown and improve the ability of health care providers to offer informed and thoughtful guidance about advance health care planning.
Why is having an advance directive in place so important? Chaplain David Lee, Liberty HomeCare & Hospice Services, Wadesboro, N.C., says it offers “a way to choose the future in the present.” As he often tells those who attend his seminars on advance directives, “When a baby is born, you paint the nursery, get a crib and buy a stroller, all as part of preparing for life. Unfortunately, we don’t take as much time to prepare for the end of life.”
The case of Terri Schaivo brought the importance of advance directives to the forefront of public awareness. In 1993, Schaivo suffered a respiratory and cardiac arrest at the age of 26 and fell into a persistent vegetative state. In the absence of an advance directive, a bitter 12-year legal battle ensued between her parents and her husband Michael over whether to remove the feeding tube that was keeping Terri alive.
The story of Terri Schiavo makes a compelling case for why every adult should have an advance directive, regardless of current age or health status. While the discussions surrounding these topics may be difficult, preparedness is one of the greatest gifts you can give your loved ones. If the unthinkable happens, your family will be at peace, knowing your wishes are being honored. Furthermore, studies have shown that family members report that they experienced significantly less stress and depression following the loss of a loved one when their relative had documented their end-of-life wishes.
Advance directives can be created without a lawyer, for free and with relative ease. One of the simplest ways to do this is by completing the Five Wishes document, which meets the legal requirements of 42 states, including North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Designed as a living will, Five Wishes lets your family and doctors know:
* Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them
* The kind of medical treatment you do or don’t want
* How comfortable you want to be
* How you want people to treat you
* What you want your loved ones to know
The Five Wishes document can be changed at any time, following the directions provided. Lee encourages individuals to review the document on a regular basis as well as after any major life change such as the death of a loved one, a divorce or the diagnosis of a serious medical condition, as these events can lead to changes in preferences for treatment or health care power of attorney.
There are no wrong answers when establishing an advance directive. Seize the opportunity on April 16 to participate in National Health Care Decisions day by discussing, deciding and documenting your wishes, whatever they may be.
For more information, visit nationalhealthcaredecisionsday.org. You can also find the answers to many frequently asked questions about advance directives in the homecare-help.com Caregiver Support Center.