Health Care Advance Planning – The Discussion That Can’t Wait
“In this world nothing is certain except death and taxes.”So said Benjamin Franklin over 200 years ago, and those words still ring true. As tax day approaches, many Americans are focused on paying the tax man on time, but it’s also a good time to reflect on end-of-life planning. National Healthcare Decisions Day is April 16, and advance care planning allows individuals to avoid forcing loved ones to make difficult, confusing medical choices in times of emotional turmoil. If left unplanned, health care decisions made at the bedside may not accurately reflect the wishes of the ill person and can have unintended consequences for the entire family.
To increase public awareness, the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association have teamed up with more than 50 national groups and local organizations to support National Healthcare Decisions Day.
While a living will may come to mind first when thinking of advance planning, securing legal documents is only one step. Advance care planning means thinking, talking and preparing, so that tough health decisions are made the way you want them, before you need them. For example, what would be most important to you if you were seriously ill? Do you want to receive life-extending treatments regardless of the quality of life? Or be kept comfortable and pain free? The dialog will be different for everyone.
A recent Harris survey commissioned by the ABA showed that 65 percent of respondents had not assigned someone to be responsible for their care if they became incapacitated and couldn’t make decisions.
If advance care planning is properly communicated, a proxy you choose will have the legal authority to oversee end-of-life care decisions. Legally appointing someone will allow physicians to provide the best possible treatment consistent with your wishes and give loved ones the guidance they’ll need to make difficult care decisions.
Whether you are 18 or 81, ask yourself: “Who do I want – who do I trust – to speak for me?” Accidents and illness can happen at any age, at any time. If unprepared, we leave ourselves and our families open to potential public dispute that could cause anguish for everyone.
There is a wide variety of advance care planning resources available. Every state has standardized legal forms for purposes of appointing a proxy. Review these forms carefully, as not every form or resource will work for your own personal beliefs, medical needs and preferences. Physicians are a valuable resource for patients considering their end-of-life preferences and can help explain the options. To locate helpful resources or to find a National Healthcare Decisions Day program in your community, go to www.nationalhealthcaredecisionsday.org.
No one likes to think about – let alone talk about – end-of-life care. But the best time to do so is when you are healthy. National Healthcare Decisions Day is a good time to start this important conversation. Take time April 16 to think about what you want, research the options and develop an action plan. Do it for yourself and for the ones you love.