Healthwise: Advance Directive Health Care

By: Cheryn Stone Email
By: Cheryn Stone Email

April 14, 2010

When you're hooked to a machine and life is fading away, it can be too late to make decisions for yourself. That leaves it up to the people closest to you to determine your fate. Suzanne Smith, a Chaplin at Martha Jefferson Hospital, often supports families through these kinds of crises.

"Through the years, I have been in many situations with families where there was conflict. In reality, more families have disagreements about religion, values, beliefs, and sometimes power struggles," said Smith.

When emotion clouds decision-making, the Advance Directive - a legal document protecting a patient's choice about health care - can provide a clearer course of action.

"An Advance Directive is about your care while you're still living. More importantly, who you would trust to make decisions for you if you couldn't make decisions for yourself," said Smith.

The Terri Schiavo provides a relevant case study. A family fund kept Schiavo on life support in a vegetable state while her future was decided by courts. Years later, she was taken off life support.

"A few years ago, the Terri Schiavo case started a lot of conversations. People saying to their partners 'don't ever do that to me.' I can understand that, but that's also a very vague comment. Don't do which part? Don't what? Don't do that period of time? Don't do that type of treatment? So the conversations are crucial," said Smith.

Smith and other staffers will be available at Martha Jefferson Friday, April 16 to talk with anyone who is interested in starting the conversation toward an Advance Directive. They'll be able to answer questions about the directive and help interested parties fill one out.

"If you fill one out, it's not necessarily set in stone. The patient can later on change their directive if they gain new insight into their treatments," said Nurse Matthew Smith.

The Advance Directive form can provide a voice for a patient who can no longer speak for himself or herself.

"The question is not 'if that happens to me....' The question is 'when that happens to me, who is the person I trust to get the information?' To have the conversation and make a decision that would meet my goals," said Suzanne.

As uncomfortable as it is to think about end-of-life decisions, having an Advance Directive form can help you plan how you want to live your life.

People interested in the Advance Directive help are encouraged to stop by the Martha Jefferson Hospital lobby between 7am and 7pm for free consultations.

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