Have your parents told you want kind of care they want at the end of life? What if they can’t communicate with you when the time comes? They need to have a document called a Living will to make their wishes known. This document is also called an advance directive.
Doctors and lawyers have been urging Americans to fill out advance directives for decades! Yet, according to the Wall Street Journal, less than a third of American adults and less than half of nursing home patients have done so. Many people don’t want to face the fact they they may become sick and not able to communicate with their family how they want to be taken care of.
Your parent might say “If I get to that point I don’t care what happens to me.” You might respond,”Maybe you don’t care, but we do!” Without specific instructions, family members may have to decide whether your parents want to be kept alive artificially, what level of disability they are willing to live with and how to let them die if they had no hope of recovery.
If family members aren’t available, Doctors generally can make the decision whether or not to discontinue medical care if future steps are futile. But many refuse to do that, largely for legal reasons. Without other instructions, in most cases, Doctors will attempt to keep a person alive at all costs.
But studies have shown, most people would not want life sustaining care if they were in an irreversible coma. On the other hand, some patients might want to be kept alive at all costs and some religions require it.
Advance Directives are not just about ending life, however. Aging With Dignity ( www.agingwithdignity.org) is a not for profit organization that has developed a form which covers five different important areas that should be addressed. These include:
The person I want to make health care decisions for me when I can’t make them myself. (health care proxy)
My wish for the kind of medical treatment I want or don’t want.
My wish for how comfortable I want to be.
My wish for how I want people to treat me.
My wish for what I want my loved ones to know.
This form is legal in 40 states. It is not only a Living Will but It also identifies a health care proxy, an equally important advance directive. The health care proxy is a person who is responsible to carry out you wishes and make medical decisions for you if you cannot. This person must be at least 18 years of age and should not be your health care provider or an employee of your health care provider.
You can receive the Five Wishes Form through the Aging With Dignity Website ( www.agingwithdignity.org) or call them at 1-888-594-7437.
Caring Connections, a program offered by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization will provide you with directions on the process of end of life planning. It specifically focuses on the naming of a health care proxy to act in your behalf. You can download the forms to name your health care proxy specifically approved in your state at: www.caringinfo.org
Advance directives do not have to be filed officially. They go into effect automatically as soon as they are signed and witnessed; some states may also require notarization. It’s important to give your family members and doctors copies, or at least instructions on how to access them. Some states have electronic registries that store advance directives online. Google Health has started a similar free online service. See www.google.com/intl/en/health/advance-directive.html
And by the way if you haven’t already figured it out, advance directives are not just for your elderly parents. You need to complete them as well! Because in reality, its not just old people who get sick or have accidents.