Plan Ahead to Ensure End-of-Life Wishes Are Met
It’s something many of us prefer not to think about, and yet something each one of us is going to face at some point – making the transition from life to death. Planning ahead can save you and your loved ones a lot of heartache. No one wants to find themselves in a situation where someone else is making medical decisions for us because we’re unable to do so. And no one wants to be faced with deciding what to do for a loved one who can’t speak for themselves without knowing what their wishes are. And yet, only about a third of U.S. adults have living wills or an other form of advance directive.
What is an Advance Directive?
An advance directive is a written statement of a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment, including the withholding of treatment, made to ensure those wishes are carried out, should the person be unable to communicate them to a healthcare provider. In Rhode Island, an advance directive generally includes the following two major components.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
This legal document names a person you choose to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. The person you name is called your agent and this individual has the ability to make medical decisions for you in case you are unconscious, in a coma, or lack the mental ability to make these decisions on your own. The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care grants your agent the authority to make any healthcare decision on your behalf, up to and including the ability to consent to or refuse any medical treatment, including treatment that could keep you alive. Because their power to act on your behalf is so broad, it is imperative to choose someone you can trust to act in your best interests and to communicate with them (preferably in writing) about your wishes regarding under what conditions you would or would not want to receive life-saving treatment.
Choosing an Agent
If you wish to name an individual as your healthcare agent, ask the person if he or she is willing to take on that responsibility. If the person agrees, then you should sit down with him or her and have a frank, detailed conversation about your feelings and values concerning health care and the kinds of treatment you would or would not want. Along with this conversation, be sure to give your agent copies of your Living Will and other end-of-life documents. This can help alleviate questions and anxiety during a time of high stress.
A living will outlines what medical procedures you would and would not want to have in the event you cannot communicate these wishes to your healthcare provider. A living will, unlike the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, applies only if you have a terminal condition. The living will should include the name of your agent and your agent should have a copy of your living will.
Finally, don’t forget to make your wishes about organ donation known. While this is a very personal decision, 95 percent of American adults support organ donation. However, only 48 percent have signed up to be a donor. Many older Americans don’t sign up to be an organ donor because they feel they are too old – they feel their organs have been through too much to help anybody. But there is no age limit for organ donation. People of all ages can – and do – become organ donors. To date, the oldest organ donor on record was 92 years old. He donated his liver and saved the life of a 68-year-old woman. Organs donated by the elderly have a very good track record of helping people live longer and healthier lives.
You can download a Rhode Island Advance Directive form here.