A tragedy can strike anyone, at any time. If something were to happen to your spouse, parent or other loved one and they couldn’t make their own medical decisions, ask yourself: Do you know what they would want? If anything happened to you, would your loved ones be able to make those decisions for you?
Many people have preferences about medical care. There may be interventions that you know you would consent to or refuse. Unfortunately, there are times when you are unable to make your desires known.
What you may not realize is that every adult can choose to control elements of their care, simply by writing an advance directive. An advance directive appoints the person you want to make medical decisions on your behalf, in case you cannot do so yourself. It can also provide guidance or instructions on how you want decisions made.
So why have only one-third of adults in America chosen to do so?
Thinking and talking about tragedy or illness is not easy; it takes courage. But it is critically important, and that’s why the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association and more than 100 other national groups co-sponsor National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16 of each year. By highlighting that date on the calendar, we hope to prompt families to begin the conversation about what matters when it comes to medical care.
Advance care planning does not require terribly complex legal documents or even a lawyer. It requires only that you take the initiative to speak about these issues with your loved ones. Tools like the Conversation Project’s Conversation Starter Kit ( theconversationproject.org/starter-kit/intro) can help you get started.
An effective conversation begins with talking about what’s most important to you: What do you want your friends, family and doctors to understand about your wishes for medical care? Starting here will help you focus on two important issues: First, think about who can best make health care decisions for you if you become incapable, even temporarily, of speaking for yourself. To appoint the person of your choice, you’ll need to complete a simple advance directive form called a health care power of attorney. Second, ask yourself what guidance you can give this person, and anyone else involved with your care, about how you would want decisions made.
It’s important to document your wishes in some way. You can put your wishes in your health care power of attorney, or in a separate advance directive document called a living will. Your lawyer or physician can help you document these decisions. By documenting your wishes, appointing a health care power of attorney, and engaging your loved ones in the necessary dialogue about these issues, you can make clear which values should drive medical decisions made on your behalf.
For assistance in going through this process or making decisions, you can find a wealth of resources at NHDD’s website ( www.nhdd.org), the ABA Health Decisions Resource page and through The Conversation Project ( theconversationproject.org).
Once you’ve made some decisions, tell your physician.