Let Someone Know Your Medical Wishes For National Healthcare Decisions Day

National Healthcare Decisions Day is on April 16th, and it’s an important reminder for every adult to let someone know their most private wishes about medial treatments and possible 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/friends 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, Shiavo suffered sudden cardiac arrest and slipped into a permanent a vegetative state. She never documented her wishes about things like feeding tubes, life support, and long-term quality of life, leaving her spouse and parents to battle for years over these questions in court.

Her husband eventually had her feeding tube removed claiming, “That’s what she would have wanted.”  But was it really? Her parents certainly didn’t think so. But we’ll never know because Terry didn’t make her healthcare wishes known to her closest family and friends.

But it’s not enough to just tell someone about your wishes.  You need to clearly document your preferences, too.  Remember, emotions can run high during a health care crisis, and it might be hard for your loved ones to stop life support when they desperately want you around.  Having your wishes spelled out in writing helps make these types of decisions easier for your loved ones, especially in cases when family members don’t agree.

So in honor of National Health Care Decisions Day, I encourage you to start tough conversations with loved ones about your personal medical preferences for medical and/or long-term care.  Here are some important questions to consider:

  • What are your thoughts on 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?”
  • Who do you trust to make important medical decisions if you are unable to speak for yourself?
  • What are your thoughts on nursing home vs. in-home health care?  Who would you trust to manage your long-term care? your finances?

These are not the most fun conversations to have, but they will help to ensure that your most personal wishes are honored in a true medical emergency.  Talk them over with loved ones and have Attorney Kristina Vickstrom prepare important legal documents like a Health Care Proxy, a Living Will, and a Durable Power of Attorney. Getting documents in writing that spell out your wishes and the care you want if something happens to you is one of the best gifts you can give your family. It can avoid misunderstandings, family disagreements, and even court battles.

Get something in writing before an unforeseen emergency strikes. Do it early (age 18 and up) and check it often (with a major life event, or at least every 5 to 10 years) to make sure you have the most protection under the current Massachusetts laws and to make any changes to your wishes and/or decision makers.

Photo credit: Shoothead / cc by-nd 2.0

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