Sharing Your Wishes: The Importance of Creating an Advance Directive

While sitting at the dinner table with your loved ones, the last topic you want to discuss is death.   Thinking of your own end and sharing your wishes regarding your medical treatment is admittedly a sensitive and painful discussion.  But quite frankly, overcoming this fear of discussion and letting your family members know your preferences will provide great comfort to them when the pressure is on to make a decision regarding your health.  Would Mom want a feeding tube?  Would Dad want to be unhooked from a ventilator?  Facing the difficult conversation and answering these questions allows your loved ones to be confident as to your medical preferences and will decrease the burden on your family should they have to make life-sustaining choices on your behalf.  Creating an end-of-life directive is the first step.

An end-of-life directive, also known as a living will, is a legal document that allows you to state the extent to which you want, or do not want, life-sustaining treatment in the event that you are in an irreversible coma or other permanent vegetative state.  An end-of-life directive is not just for older adults.  Unexpected end-of-life situations can happen at any age, so it is critical for all adults to consider preparing a directive.   By early planning, not only will you receive the medical care that you desire, but you will relieve your loved ones of any unnecessary suffering and pain associated with making those decisions on their own.

In addition to the creation of a living will, the appointment of a health-care agent is another element to effective advance-care planning. A health care power of attorney allows you to name the person you want to make health care decisions for you when a doctor determines that you are unable to do so for yourself. Choosing a person to act as your health-care agent is important. Although you may have other documents regarding your care, not every situation can be anticipated, and some situations may require someone to make a judgment call about your health care wishes.

A health care power of attorney is more than names on a piece of paper that you keep in your filing cabinet.  You should have a genuine conversation with your agent(s) about what your wishes are in the event that you are later unable to make life-sustaining decisions on your own.  This conversation can be a difficult one to have, but by sharing this information with those that you trust, you will provide your loved ones with confidence and certainty in the decisions they may have to make for you later.