The Sixth Annual National Healthcare Decisions Day, designed to “inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning,” will be held throughout the United States on April 16.
Through many years of experience, Beverly Bryda, ACSW, Masonicare Health Center’s Director of Social Services, knows firsthand ow important Advance Directives can be to individuals and their families. Here, she explains why we should all have conversations with our loved ones and medical providers as to how we would want our care and treatment managed if we were terminally ill and unable to engage in decision-making conversations.
What is an Advance Medical Directive and why should I have one?
Advance Medical Directives outline specific instructions and directions for your physician and medical clinicians to use in making and following through on the care decisions, treatments, and interventions you would want if you are not able to communicate them yourself. An Advance Medical Directive is a formal legal document. Your wishes as outlined in the document must be followed when end-of-life care decisions are being made for you. Completing an Advance Directive is your legal right. In Connecticut, two of the most important Advance Medical Directives documents include the Living Will and the Appointment of Health Care Representative form.
What is a Living Will?
The Living Will is a document that clearly explains your wishes regarding end-of-life care. It guides and authorizes medical physicians to provide, withhold, or remove life support systems if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. The Living Will is utilized only if you are unable to communicate your wishes, engage in formal decision making, or participate in directing your own health care decisions.
What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney?
This document names the person you choose and legally appoint to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Your healthcare representative has the legal authority to accept, refuse, and remove medical treatment, interventions, and life support on your behalf. Completing this advance directive assures that your wishes will be followed, and it also lessens the emotional burden and personal sense of responsibility your loved ones would have to experience when faced with making a difficult medical choice for you. Appointing a healthcare power of attorney assures that decision-making will be directed by someone you know and trust and who is familiar with your wishes and healthcare philosophies.
Do I need to see a lawyer to get an Advance Directive?
Although Advance Medical Directives are legally binding documents, they do not require the services of a lawyer to complete, and most forms don’t have to be notarized. The documents require that you sign and date the forms in the presence of two witnesses who are both at least 18 years old.
What if I want or need to make changes in the future?
If you have already completed these documents, it is suggested that you periodically review them and execute changes if needed. Inform your family members and medical providers of any changes that you are considering and complete updated documents to reflect the changes you’ve made. Be sure to provide your doctor and your family with copies of your most current Advance Directives. You may want to keep a notice in your wallet stating that you have completed Advance Medical Directives and where a copy of these documents can be obtained in case of an emergency.
How often should I review my Advance Directives?
Suggested times to review these documents are at the time you receive a new medical diagnosis, when there is a life changing event such as divorce or the death of a spouse or loved one (especially if this change affects your previous appointment of healthcare representative), and at the time of a significant birthday (such as the beginning of the start of a new decade of life). Since accidents, illness, and unplanned medical events occur at any age, completing an advance medical directive is suggested for young (over age 18) and old alike.
Where can I go to get more information?
Additional information and copies of the Advance Medical Documents are available on line at the State of Connecticut’s web site, www.ct/gov/ag. The official website for National Healthcare Decisions Day is www.nhdd.org