On April 16th, we will have the opportunity to help make the lives of those we love a bit easier. An Advanced Directive (A.D.) form is something that we can fill out and have our significant other sign that explains who we want to speak for us when the time comes we are able to speak for ourselves. At some point in life, all of us will end up sick, sedated, having surgery, or in an accident, unable to speak for ourselves. An A.D. means someone who knows and loves us will make decisions instead of a stranger. Our choice is not if someone will make decisions for us…our choice is WHO that person will be. A.D.s insure our right to speak for ourselves and they tell our loved ones what we want done. A.D.s also are a great help when we have to BE decision makers for our loved ones.
Here is how it works:
1st, we name the specific people we trust to make decisions for us. As chaplain and member of the ethics committee, this is where I often see conflict.—can be many family members present, all of whom think THEY should be the spokesperson. And they may disagree! Stress and worry make family communication harder than usual.
2nd, gives contact information so our agents can be located in an emergency – e.g., phone number for daughter in Arizona, even email address.
3rd, helps us think about our goals – about what is important to us if we become ill
4th, stimulates us to think and talk about our deepest values and religious beliefs so those values will guide our agents.
5th, lets us give guidelines or general directions for our treatment.—for example, how long we might want to continue really aggressive medical care if we were NOT getting any better
Finally, our A.D. creates a temporary transfer of power; (..just like the president, we appoint a temporary agent), guides that agent’s decisions for us, and then when we are better lets us take back our decision-making powers
Why it is not just for the elderly to fill out:
1st, accidents, illness, surgery happen at every age – in fact, accidents more likely for people under 30.
2nd, all famous cases were people in their 20’s…Terry Schiavo, Nancy Cruzan, Karen Quinlan.
3rd, when someone is young, there’s often more conflict between family about who will make decisions.
4th, there are real dangers in NOT completing an advance directive. If we DON”T have an A.D., Virginia law says who may make decisions, but as we saw in Florida with the tragedy of Terry Schiavo, such a simple ranking of decision-makers may not help. An advance directive is a legally recognized document with clear and convincing proof of our values and wishes and of our decision maker. It can help to prevent terrible struggles for our families.
Finally, this simple process helps us get the care we want and help relieves anguish for our families in difficult situations. It is becoming a routine part of good health care planning for everyone who is 18 or older.
Questions to consider when designating the decision maker:
1st, who is the person you trust to make decisions for you? Who knows your values and goals?
2nd, do you have religious beliefs or values that would affect your decisions?
3rd, in the very rare event that you were left permanently unconscious with no realistic hope of recovery, how long would you consider it reasonable to continue aggressive care? 2 weeks? 2 months? 2 years? 15 years? This is an especially important guideline to put in writing. Though Terry Schiavo had TOLD her husband and several friends here wishes, she had never written any guidelines, and that made her tragic situation even worse for everyone who loved her.
Where to go to fill this out:
1st, Wednesday, April 16th, is National Health Care Decisions day.
Both our community hospitals will offer free education and help all day.
2nd, just walk into the lobby at Martha Jefferson or the cafeteria at UVA anytime between 8am and 8pm.. Information, friendly help, and free forms will be waiting for you
3rd, ANY other day, you may go to the hospital website @ marthajeffersonhopsital.org to download information and forms OR free assistance can be arranged by calling 434-982-7009. We’ll do everything we can to help you to protect your rights and to make things easier for your loved ones.