What is an Advance Health Care Directive?
Do you remember Terri Schiavo? Her heart stopped at age 25 and she never regained consciousness. Her husband insisted she would not want to be kept alive in this condition, while her parents were equally as adamant she would not want to die. In the spring of 2005, fifteen years later, the fight came to head, the federal government became involved, and we all came to know Terri and her sad set of circumstances. How could this happen? Unfortunately, it was quite easy – Terri Schaivo did not have a health care directive. If she had, the family would have seen in writing what Terri wanted and the fight would have stopped before it started.
Terri Schiavo’s tragedy has touched all Americans. How can we deal with this if it happened in our family? What can we do to avoid such a conflict in a family system?
What is an advance health care directive?
An advance health care directive combines a power of attorney for health care and a living will, or directive to physicians, into one document. It allows you to name an agent to speak with doctors and make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them on your own.
What are some guidelines for choosing an appropriate agent?
When choosing your agent, be sure it is someone who will be able to make the decisions you want made. For instance, if you feel strongly that you would not want to be kept alive under certain circumstances, make sure your agent will be able (morally and emotionally) to direct your health care provider to withdraw life-sustaining treatment and let you go. Do not feel obligated to name a spouse as your agent. Likewise, if you are the spouse being named and you feel that you would not be able to do the job asked of you, let your spouse know and encourage them to pick another family member or friend who will be able to follow their wishes.
What are other provisions that might be included in an advanced health care directive?
Advance health care directives also provide a formal document in which you make your end-of-life decisions known. At what point, if any, would you want life-sustaining treatment withdrawn? Do you want palliative care (pain relief) even if the dosage necessary to alleviate the pain hastens death? A comprehensive health care directive provides you with a place to indicate your religion, burial instructions, wishes regarding organ donations and autopsies. This is a document where there is really no limit to the specificity of direction you can give your agent. A well-written detailed advance health care directive can help your loved ones immensely if they are faced with making health care decisions or end-of-life decisions for you.
In Oregon, we must use the statutory form, which is quite simplistic, to say the least. However, that does not mean we are stuck with only the choices it provides. There are ways to add additional language to the document, making it an effective tool to meeting your end-of-life decisions. If you have any questions about what yours says, or how you might put one together, please do not hesitate to contact me. It would be my honor and pleasure to assist you.