It’s a situation no one wants to find themselves in – having someone else make medical decisions for you because you’re unable to do so. And yet, only about a third of U.S. adults have living wills or other form of advance directives – documents that inform medical personnel and loved ones what you want to have happen in the event you can’t speak for yourself when making decision about what types of medical care you want.
April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day. This is the perfect opportunity to plan ahead for your end-of-life care, not only to ensure your wishes are honored but to relieve your loved ones of the stress of having to make life-and-death decisions for you.
Directives to Consider
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
This legal document provides direction to healthcare providers about your medical wishes if you are unable to do so. It allows you to name a person you choose to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unconscious, in a coma, or lack the mental ability to make these decisions on your own. The person you name is called your agent and this individual has the ability to make medical decisions for you. This document grants your agent the authority to make any healthcare decision on your behalf, up to and including the ability to consent to or refuse any medical treatment, including treatment that could keep you alive. Because their power to act on your behalf is so broad, it is imperative to choose someone you can trust to act in your best interests and to communicate with them (preferably in writing) about what your wishes regarding under what conditions you would or would not want to receive life-saving treatment.
A living will outlines what medical procedures you would and would not want to have in the event you cannot communicate these wishes to your healthcare provider. A living will applies only if you have a terminal condition. You can use a standard form or you can create your own. Your living will should include the name of your agent and your agent should have a copy of your living will.
Choosing an Agent
If you wish to name an individual as your healthcare agent, ask the person if he or she is willing to take on that responsibility. If the person agrees, then you should sit down with him or her and have a frank, detailed conversation about your feelings and values concerning health care and the kinds of treatment you would or would not want. Along with this conversation, be sure to give your agent copies of your living will and other end-of-life documents. This can help alleviate questions and anxiety during a time of high stress.
Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order
A DNR order is signed by you and your doctor that informs emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or hospital emergency personnel to refrain from using cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), artificial breathing tubes, electric heart shocks, or other invasive emergency techniques if your heart and/or breathing stops.
Finally, don’t forget to make your wishes about organ donation known. While this is a very personal decision, 95 percent of American adults support organ donation. However, only 48 percent have signed up to be a donor. Many older Americans don’t sign up to be an organ donor because they feel they are too old – they feel their organs have been through too much to help anybody. But there is no age limit for organ donation. People of all ages can – and do – become organ donors. In one case, a 92-year-old man donated his liver and saved the life of a 68-year-old woman. Organs donated by the elderly have a very good track record of helping people live longer and healthier lives.