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April 16th was National Healthcare Decisions Day, and this year it will be a week-long event aimed at educating people about the importance of having the right legal documents in place and having family conversations about medical wishes for end of life care.

Far too many people assume that their families would make the choices they would want in an emergency. Yet everyday we hear stories of adult children, siblings or other relatives battling during a health care crisis over “what their loved one would have wanted” in that situation.

The Terry Schiavo case is a great example of this. At the young age of 26, Schiavo suffered sudden cardiac arrest and slipped into a permanent vegetative state. She never documented her wishes about treatment options such as feeding tubes, life-support and long-term care, leaving her family to battle for years over these issues in court.

Discussing your health care wishes in advance is proactive way to help avoid a similar legal mess should you become disabled or incapacitated. But, your planning must not stop there. You must also clearly and legally document your preferences, as well as choose an “Agent” whom you trust to make such decisions if you are unable to speak for yourself.

Remember, emotions can run high during a health care crisis, and it might be hard for your loved ones to stop life support, for example, when they desperately want you around. Having your wishes spelled out in writing helps provide guidance during a stressful time and makes these types of decisions easier for your loved ones, especially in cases when other family members don’t agree.

In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day, it’s a wise idea to set aide time this week to begin difficult conversations with loved ones about your personal medical preferences for medical or long-term care if you haven’t already. Here are some important questions to consider:

  • Whom do you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf?
  • How do you feel about feeding tubes, life support and other artificial life saving devices?
  • Is there any type of medical care you would NEVER want?
  • If you were permanently disabled or incapacitated, what things would contribute or take away from your “quality of life”?
  • What are your thoughts on nursing home vs. in-home health care?
  • How would you like your family to pay for the care you may need if co-pays become excessive or insurance does not cover your treatment?

 

One final key point to consider when documenting your wishes and choosing the healthcare agent that will ultimately carry them out is that the person you choose should want to have this responsibility.  There are people who do not want, or can not handle making medical decisions– even for their own spouse.  Remember, if the time comes that the health care directive needs to be used it is going to be a very high stress, emotional time for this person.  Are they up for the job?  Do they want the job?  So, take the time to have an additional conversation with whomever you are considering to make sure that they can and will be willing and able to make the decisions that you would want them to make.