It always seems too early, until it’s too late

End-of-life care is not a discussion that most people want to have with their loved ones, but the best time to have that talk is in a time of calm. While these conversations are often difficult, having them before a crisis means that decisions are made with clear heads, not with the emotions that a sudden illness or trauma can bring.

National Healthcare Decisions Day, held annually on April 16th, provides the opportunity to think about and share your end-of-life wishes with the important people in your life and record your desires in your Advance Directive.

What is An Advance Directive?

Advance Directives generally involve up to two documents: a Living Will, and/or the Health Care Proxy. In New York State, unless the Living Will specifically names a proxy to act as your health care agent, a Living Will is extremely limiting, so today we will focus on the Health Care Proxy form only, which does the job of both the Living Will and the Health Care Proxy.

The Health Care Proxy document allows you to name your health care agent or agents, as well as accept or refuse medical care based on a specific set of circumstances. In addition, you can make decisions about:

  • The use of dialysis and breathing machines
  • Your wishes about being resuscitated if your breathing or heartbeat stops
  • Tube feeding
  • Organ or tissue donation

Having the Conversation

But how do you broach the subject with the people you love? It’s easier than you think. Simply download and print a Health Care Proxy form online and use it as a tool to guide your discussion. This legally binding document, part of an Advance Directive, helps you consider your own wishes, and spells them out for others to follow. In addition, it helps you decide the best person or persons to carry out your desires for medical care, should you be unable to make those decisions for yourself. The Conversation Project is a great resource for starting the process, and offers helpful templates (click here for more information).

I like to suggest that every adult over the age of 18 complete their Advance Directives. Once children are old enough to go away to college, they should have the privilege to choose their proxy, and have a discussion about their beliefs and end-of-life wishes.  It is vital that these documents be revisited from time to time; your wishes may be updated and a new proxy may be named at any time.

Safekeeping Your Wishes

Completing the forms is only the beginning; making them easily accessible is also important, since they do no good if no one knows where to find them. Upon choosing your health care proxy or proxies, at the very minimum, make sure to provide each with a copy of the paperwork. In addition, store a copy in an easy-to-locate spot, in case it needs to be accessed quickly. I suggest keeping one in the glove compartment of your car as well, for easy access should it be needed.

It’s not easy talking about end-of-life care.  But, having the difficult discussions before a crisis gives you peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out, and eases the decision-making burden on those you love.

More information can be found at http://www.nhdd.org/public-resources.

By Dorian Froelich, LMSW
Chief Guest Relations Officer, Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *