Celebrating Advance Directives

A senior woman tends to her roses in her garden; she wears a broad-brimmed hat on this sunny day.

National Healthcare Decisions Day is April 16 and it’s all about advance care planning (ACP). ACP is thinking about, writing down, and sharing future healthcare decisions in case you can’t make them yourself. And although the topic doesn’t seem worth celebrating, consider this all-too-likely scenario:

In the bustling town of Harmony Hills, nestled among rolling hills and serene landscapes, lives Mrs. Thompson, a vibrant and active member of the community. She enjoys gardening, weekly bridge games, and spoiling her grandchildren. One sunny afternoon, while tending to her beloved roses, Mrs. Thompson falls, loses consciousness and fractures her hip. Thankfully a neighbor is able to call 9-1-1 and Mrs. Thompson is immediately taken to a hospital.

Because she is unconscious, the doctors must discuss treatment options with her family. There are several alternatives, all with their own risks and benefits. How can her family decide what to do?

Mrs. Thompson planned ahead; she had an advance directive and gave copies to her doctor and loved ones.

Advance directives (ADs) are legal documents that outline an individual’s healthcare preferences in the event they become unable to communicate their wishes due to illness or injury. Without an advance directive, decisions about care can be fraught with uncertainty and conflict for those tasked with making medical decisions for others. With an advance directive, however, a person’s wishes about medical interventions, life-sustaining treatments, and – if needed – end-of-life care can be respected.

There are two primary types of advance directives: durable power of attorney for healthcare (DPOAH) and a living will. A DPOAH appoints a trusted individual, known as a healthcare proxy, to make medical decisions on behalf of the person. A living will outlines specific medical treatments and interventions that the individual does or does not want in certain situations. Because they serve distinct purposes, they complement each other in offering comprehensive guidance in times of crisis.

It’s essential for everyone 18 and over to have an advance directive, regardless of health status; unexpected medical emergencies can arise at any time. By completing an advance directive, individuals empower themselves to keep control over their healthcare decisions, even when they cannot actively participate.

National Healthcare Decisions Day prompts us to act. Prepare your advance directive as part of the ACP process. Organizations like Prepare for Your Care, The Conversation Project, and Planning My Way offer free valuable resources and tools to navigate ACP, including advance directives. You can also ask your local healthcare professionals for support and forms; many carry the Five Wishes document.

We should take comfort in and celebrate that advance directive provides clarity and peace of mind for ourselves and our loved ones. Mrs. Thompson was ready – and we should be too!