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Plan to have your health care wishes honoured

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Plan to have your health care wishes honoured


What if illness or an accident leaves us unable to express our preferences about medical treatment and end of life matters? The good news is that more people are making such preferences known while they are in good health. The bad news is that many of us put off doing more than just thinking about it.


A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 69% of married respondents had talked with their spouse about his or her wishes for medical treatment when there is no hope of improvement compared to only 51% fifteen years before the survey. 27% of respondents had written down their wishes compared to 12% fifteen years previously. Why is it important to take care of this sooner than later, and why do so many of us fail to do so?


sep 14 estate planP1070958It isn’t just that we’re too busy. For most of us, thinking, talking and writing about what we want done or not done if we become severely disabled or terminally ill is scary and difficult. As someone said, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.” It’s one thing to learn about someone else’s incapacitation and death, and another to anticipate our own.


Even if we understand the importance of such preparations and are willing to give it a go, how can we know and address all the potential situations and decisions? What if we don’t know what we would want in certain circumstances? What if what we want would conflict with the way we were raised or with what our loved ones, our religious or spiritual adviser or our doctor would want? What if when it happens, our preferences have changed, but we haven’t yet made that known?


These are valid concerns. However, while planning is not foolproof, it can increase the chances of decisions being made in accordance with our wishes. Verbally communicating our wishes to someone in our family does not assure that other family members will have the same understanding of what we would want. Such differences can place family members in conflict over critical and timely decisions.


Completing a written, legal document that names someone who has agreed to make such decisions for us (health care agent) and sets out our wishes as specifically as possible helps avoid uncertainty and unnecessary conflict. Copies of such a document should be provided (and periodically replaced with an updated version) to the health care agent, to our doctor and our medical file, and possibly to other family members or friends. More awareness and documentation assures a better chance that our wishes will be carried out, particularly in a sudden, urgent situation.


To prepare, we need to first consider decisions about such matters as aggressive medical intervention and life support, pain relief, comfort measures and the setting where care might be provided under various circumstances. Next, it is advisable to recruit a health care agent and to determine our preferences about not just medical matters but also care-related, social and spiritual preferences, for example hospice service and funeral arrangements. Then we can complete an advance health care directive and any other appropriate legal document on our own or with guidance from an attorney. When properly completed, copies should be provided to our health care agent, our doctor and anyone else we would like to have one.


When someone approaches us to discuss wishes they may be unable to express in the future due to illness or injury, it’s important for us to listen without judging or criticizing. They may have mixed feelings stemming from their religious or moral upbringing, their fear of disappointing their family, and their own emotional state. If asked, we can offer our opinion and be clear that we want to support the best choices they can make.


Advanced health care directive forms are available from various legal organizations and hospitals. To identify specialists in elder law, contact in the U.S.A. the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys at www.naela.org or in Canada www.canadian-lawyers.ca.


Sandy Cohen and Roger Cormier (email: [email protected]; free blog: starguide4growingolder.wordpress.com)



By | 2014-07-29T15:21:25-05:00 September 15th, 2014|Tips For Growing Older, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Plan to have your health care wishes honoured

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