Share your healthcare AND end-of-life wishes
Today is National Health Care Decisions Day, an initiative to encourage patients to express their wishes regarding healthcare and for providers and facilities to respect those wishes, whatever they may be. While public awareness of advance directives is widespread, less than one third of Americans have a living will. And a Pew Research Center survey, conducted in November 2005, revealed that while people are much more willing to discuss end-of-life care preferences than they were a generation ago, only about 50% of children have had these conversations with their aging parents.
As a hospice nurse, I learned about the importance of advance care planning in ensuring individual values and preferences are honored, and the gift these documents provide to family and friends when called upon to make decisions regarding a loved one’s care. I witnessed patients endure treatments they may not have wanted and families struggle with uncertainty or conflict when these documents did not exist. I also learned about the fragility of life and how serious illness can impact us when least expected, reinforcing the importance of not waiting for a medical crisis before having important discussions.
In my personal life, I experienced the value of advance care planning when my own father experienced a serious illness that took his life within three months. When he could no longer speak for himself, my brother and I were called upon to make decisions regarding his care. Because he had taken the time to prepare an advance directive and have conversations about his wishes, we were confident in our decision to pursue hospice care when treatments were no longer beneficial or improving his quality of life.
Today, on National Healthcare Decisions Day, consider the following:
- If you do not have an advance directive, take the time to prepare one today and encourage family and friends to do the same. There are two main types of advance directives: the living will and durable power of attorney. Many people make a combined directive that includes both a living will and a durable power of attorney for healthcare. You can download an advance directive form here.
- As you prepare your advance directive, have a conversation with loved ones about its contents as well as your values and priorities. Ensure that the person you designated as your health care proxy (substitute decision maker) is willing to make decisions for your care in accordance with your wishes.
- Be sure to provide a copy to your physician and other healthcare providers.
- If you have already prepared an advance directive, take the time to review it today. If your values, preferences, and wishes have changed, this is the time to prepare a new document.
I prepared an advance directive more than 20 years ago. I have been blessed with good health and my family, thankfully, has not needed to refer to its contents. Today, however, my children are more likely to be decision makers than those I identified twenty years ago, and my values and priorities have changed based on life experiences and age.
With that in mind, I took the time today to prepare a new advance directive and to ensure, once again, that my family understands its contents. I can now take comfort that, if necessary, my children have the guidance they need and the same piece of mind that my brother and I had if called upon to make decisions for my care. I hope that you and your loved ones will do the same.