The Importance of Advance Care Planning
I know…it’s difficult to talk with someone you love about dying or becoming incapacitated, but please read the following account a friend shared with me. It will help you understand the importance of advance care planning.
“I can tell you from personal experience, knowing my mother’s medical wishes brought me comfort at a time of unbearable grief. You see, after unsuccessfully battling sepsis with high-dose antibiotics for many months, my mom’s health had severely declined. Surgery would rid her of the infection, but due to her age and extremely frail condition, it came with considerable risks. When her symptoms became unbearable, she decided to have surgery. This included the placement of a temporary feeding tube to aid in her recovery. Heartbreakingly, instead of improving, her condition deteriorated. As time passed, the only thing keeping her alive was a feeding tube.
I knew my mom didn’t want to live like this. She made her end of life wishes very clear to me. Both in conversation and by completing legal documentation called advance directives. As her designated healthcare representative, I had clear instructions to follow regarding her future medical care and treatments. So when the time came, though not easy, I had the peace of mind needed to carry out her wishes.”
What are advance directives?
Advance directives are legal documents that help others understand the type of medical care you want if you can no longer make decisions for yourself. The two I’d like to focus on are the living will declaration and appointment of a healthcare representative.
A living will provides clear instructions that you do NOT want life-sustaining treatments or procedures should you experience an incurable or irreversible condition in which death will occur in a relatively short time. Life-sustaining procedures include things like mechanical respirators, feeding tubes and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It’s important to note that even if you choose not to receive life-sustaining treatments, you will still be provided symptom management, for example, pain medication.
Appointment of a healthcare representative (AHCR)
A living will only applies if you’re terminally ill. It doesn’t include other situations in which you can’t make decisions for yourself, for example, emergent situations like accidents, stroke and heart attack. In these situations, it’s your AHCR who can make decisions for you if you’re unable to do so for yourself. It’s essential to choose someone you trust and will support your wishes.
Advance directives don’t take away your right to make choices about your current healthcare. Also, you can change or cancel an advance directive at any time.
Talk to your loved ones
My friend told me the greatest gift her mom ever gave her was to make clear her healthcare choices if the unthinkable were to happen. It allowed her to make an informed decision that honored her mother’s wishes and also relieved her of a lifetime of guilt. Talk to those closest to you, family, friends, doctors, and clergy and let them know your wishes. And most important, provide them with a copy of your advance directives.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Provided by: Reverend Debby Allen, M.Div., Highpoint Health Chaplain and Patient Advocate
To learn more, contact Debby Allen at 812-537-8259.