They are simple to complete. They are free. They are of tremendous benefit to family. So why do just 25 percent of all Californians have an Advance Health Care Directive?
The most common excuses I hear are “I’m too young or too healthy.” In reality, every adult should have an official Advance Directive because unforeseen accidents or illness can leave anyone unable to personally make critical healthcare decisions. That puts you at risk for having your wishes about medical care unknown if you cannot speak for yourself.
Whether you are 20 or 80, leaving those difficult decisions to others is not in your best interest or theirs.
An Advance Directive is a legal document that tells healthcare providers what treatments you want or do not want if you are not able to speak for yourself in a medical emergency or suffer a life-limiting illness. Directives are written instructions about your future medical care that do not go into effect until or unless you are no longer able to make decisions about such care as breathing machines, feeding tubes, oxygen, IV fluids or specific medications. They protect your right to refuse medical treatment you do not want or request treatment you do want.
While the elderly and those with chronic diseases are most likely to think about healthcare choices and develop Advance Directives, adults of all ages should take the time to think about the kind of care they would want if faced with a challenging situation. It is important for everyone to discuss options and wishes with family members, close friends and physicians and then put your wishes in writing for the time they are needed. It may seem like an unpleasant discussion, but knowing your wishes now can prevent anxieties or even bewilderment on the part of loved ones if and when key decisions must be made.
In California, these legal documents are simple forms with five parts. Part 1 is the power of attorney that lets you name an individual who will speak on your behalf about your care when your physician determines that you can no longer communicate your wishes. Part 2 includes individual instructions pertaining to specific treatments. Part 3 indicates your desires regarding organ donation and Part 4 lets you designate a physician to have primary responsibility for your care. Part 5 contains your signature and signatures of two witnesses or a notary that will make the document official.
These documents are available from your attorney, your local hospital or you can download them from the Attorney General’s website. Numerous national and state health related non profit organizations support the concept of Advance Directives and often direct individuals to www.caringinfo.org where there is a link to download a state specific official Advance Directive form. Legal counsel is not required to complete or authorize an Advance Directive. You can do this yourself.
Copies of Advance Health Care Directives should be given to your designated power of attorney (agent) and should be given to a hospital or nursing home if you are admitted for care.
You can always revoke your Advance Directive should your circumstances change or you change your mind. The important thing to remember is that you never know when you may face a medical crisis and the best time to prepare is now, when you are cognizant and capable of thinking through the options and choices. Doing so will help your family, friends and healthcare providers honor your wishes.
If you have any questions, I encourage you to speak with your physician, your attorney or contact Oak Valley Hospital for additional information. Once you are incapacitated, it is too late to legally advise others of your desires. This is a vital healthcare option that anyone and everyone should consider now. It is easy. It is inexpensive. It is critical to your future care.
John Friel is the Chief Executive Officer for Oak Valley Hospital. Look for the Health Watch column as a regular feature each month in The Oakdale Leader and periodically in The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times.