April 16 is National Healthcare Decision Day

Imagine that something happened to you tomorrow, and that you ended up in the hospital, unable to speak for yourself. If that was to happen, is there anyone that would know what healthcare treatments you would and wouldn’t want? 

For a lot of people, the answer to that is “no.”  But when it comes down to healthcare decisions, it is important to be prepared and to make sure that your wishes are documented legally. Accidents and illness can happen to anyone at any age. 

One of the most famous examples is the case of Terri Schiavo. She was only 27 years old when she lapsed into a vegetative state, and it took a seven-year legal battle to decide her end of life care– something that could have been easily avoided with an advanced directive document.

An advance care directive is a legal document that states who you want to make medical decisions and treatment decisions in the circumstance that you are not able to make those choices for yourself.  There are a few different types of advanced directives, but the most well known ones are a healthcare power of attorney and a living will. 

The National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) initiative is a collaborative effort of national, state and community organizations committed to ensuring that all adults with decision-making capacity in the United States have the information and opportunity to communicate and document their healthcare decisions.

April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Daya day to focus attention on discussing and documenting choices for medical treatment, especially in the context of advanced illness, through advance directives.

These are heavy decisions, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some tips for things to consider when you are creating your advance directives from the NHDD.

To get started, you need to time to:

Learn about the types of life-sustaining treatments that are available

Reflect upon your values and what is important to you at the end-of-life

Decide what types of healthcare treatment you would want or would not want

Talk to others to help you with decisions if need – physician, faith leader, loved ones 

Here are questions to consider:

What kind of healthcare do you want and do not want at the end of life?

Who would you like to make your decisions for you if you can not speak for yourself?

What are your concerns?

What aspects of your life give it the most meaning?

What one thing do you want to be sure your doctors, family, friends know about your wishes? 

Use an advance directive to document your healthcare decisions, which will serve as a tool to communicate your choices.  A healthcare power of attorney designates a person who will be your voice and decision maker if you can’t do it yourself. This can be anyone over the age of 18, and should be someone that you love and trust.  A living will documents what medical treatments you would or wouldn’t want in the circumstance that you are not able to tell people.  

Make sure that your directive reflects your personal wishes, and make sure that the documents are legally valid in your state (lawyers are not needed to complete the documents, but you still need to make sure yours is legal, because a witness and notary may be required). 

Finally, have a talk with your loved ones about your end of life care decisions. This gives you a chance to reflect and plan before a crisis, and can give your loved ones a sense of comfort is they are ever faced with a difficult decision. 

For more information and resources, please visit www.nationalhealthcaredecisionsday.org .

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