Who will speak for you when you can no longer speak for yourself? More than one out of four older Americans face questions about medical treatment near the end of life but are not capable of making those decisions according to the National Institutes of Health. Advance care planning can ease worries about what will happen to you when you are unable to make decisions about your own care.
Advance care planning involves making end-of-life choices based on your priorities, beliefs and values about how you would like to be cared for if you are no longer able to speak for yourself or make your own decisions regarding healthcare. This includes getting information on the types of life-sustaining treatments that are available such as: CPR, ventilator use and artificial nutrition or artificial hydration, deciding what types of treatments you would or would not want, sharing your wishes with your family and medical care team, and completing advance directives.
Advance Directives are documents such as a Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare that are used to make legally valid decisions about future medical treatment.
A Living Will instructs your physician to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining procedures if you become terminally ill, are in a coma or are in a persistent vegetative state with no reasonable likelihood of recovering.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare is a legal document in which you can name another person, an agent, to make medical decisions for you, if you become unable to make them. In a healthcare power of attorney, you can describe specific treatments you want or do not want.
How do you get started?
We all have our own definition of a good quality of life. What is right for someone else may not be what is right for you.
- Step 1 – Educate yourself on the various life-sustaining medical treatments there are. Think through what types of medical treatments you would want or not want if you were unlikely to survive. Consider what is meaningful to you. Spiritual support? Having family nearby? Being at home?
- Step 2 – Make a decision and tell someone. You can name a Substitute Decision Maker – someone who can speak for you when you can’t speak for yourself.
- Step 3 – Put your wishes in writing with the use of Advance Directives.
- Step 4 – Talk to your family and medical care team. Sharing your wishes is perhaps one of the most difficult steps of advance care planning. Try to remember that creating a plan can alleviate questioning, confusion, guilt, or disagreements among family members trying to determine what you would have wanted for yourself.
April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day – a day dedicated to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of Advance Care Planning. Every individual has the right to decide their medical care at the end of life.