Does It Matter How We Face a Health Crisis or the End of Our Life? If you answered yes, like most Americans, then you may want to have that difficult conversation now – while you can, and put a plan in place to ensure that your preferences are known and that the pressure is taken off family members to decide in a vacuum.
Monday, April 16th marked the 5th Annual National Healthcare Decisions Day. What is National Healthcare Decisions Day? It is designed to educate the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning. It promotes the idea that having these conversations and making plans to support having the preferences and choices carried out is taking care of each other.
Please don’t mistake this for a national “fill out a form” day. This is not the message! It is about appreciating the significance of talking to loved ones about health care scenarios and making preferences known. The end result of this process is the documentation.
You can begin the process by asking yourself: “what kind of health care do I want if I have suffered a life-threatening traumatic injury, accident or face an illness that may be terminal or is likely to impair my ability to decide for myself? These are not “unthinkable” scenarios, they happen every day whether we are aware of them or not. While we cannot control many of the circumstances leading up to the illness or injury (when it is often too late to have the conversation), we can choose to make deliberate and informed choices about health care, and this will make it much easier for our loved ones to take care of us, instead of worrying about “what we would have wanted.” A great form that is readily available to assist in thinking about these questions, scenarios, preferences and values is available from the University of New Mexico in pdf form. This form is long but it is thorough and likely to cover situations that we otherwise wouldn’t consider. Many of us use our personal experience as a reference point (“don’t let me end up like great-Grandma Jones who was kept alive for seven months . . . !”), but that should just be the starting point for the conversation.
How do I get started?
- Educate yourself – take a look at the Colorado Bar Association’s pamphlet about Advance Medical Directives.
- Think about what is important to you by using a tool like the Values History form or the American Bar Association’s Toolkit for Health Care Advance Planning
- If you have special concerns relating to your decisions, or need help getting family or loved ones involved in the process – get assistance!
- Pick a person (an agent or proxy) on whom you can rely to be your health care agent and make sure that any questions you have about how this arrangement works are addressed by legal and/or medical professionals. Some basic questions about the difference between a financial and a health care power of attorney are answered in the Colorado Bar Association’s Senior Law Handbook where you can also find good information about hospice and palliative care.
- When you have identified what you want, communicated with others and discussed your preferences, you will want to ensure that these will be carried out – so don’t forget the last step of making the documents! Each state has its own unique laws, so while you may think that a “one-size-fits-all” form you find is great, you may want to be sure that it will work in the way you want it to – so check with an attorney who focuses on elder law and these types of issues.