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Advance Care Directives

  • Sitting around the kitchen table talking about your end-of-life wishes may not sound like an appealing evening, but it is a much better alternative to having the same conversation in the emergency room or at a hospital bedside.

    Known as advance directives or advance care planning, these prepared documents or written statements can help a loved one inform your medical team about your care in the event that you cannot.

    According to the American Bar Association, advance directives give instructions about your health care and/or appoints someone to make medical treatment decisions for you if you cannot.

    One type of advance care planning is a Living Will. This is a document that states your wishes about life-sustaining medical treatment if you are terminally ill, permanently unconscious or in the end-stage of a fatal illness, according to the ABA.

    Another option is a Health Care Proxy or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document appoints someone else to make all medical treatment decisions on your behalf, says the ABA. The Health Care Proxy can also include pre-written instructions.

    The directives can cover a variety of topics from whether you prefer to accept or reject medical interventions to be kept alive, whether you would prefer to be at home or in a hospital at the end of your life and how you would prefer to be cared for in the event of a terminal illness.

    During a health crisis or sudden medical change, emotions run high and it is often difficult to make sound decisions or imagine what someone would choose to do in these severe situations. Not having a plan in place can cause family members to argue over what they think would be the best approach.

    While many agree advance directives are important, only about 36% of people actually have written instructions, according to The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

    While directives are important, it is sometimes difficult to bring up the topic of end of life care decisions. The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s Engage With Grace campaign offers two-minute talking points to bring up with friends, family or co-workers to make starting the conversations a bit easier.

    Another option is to follow prepared forms. Mental health, living will, do-not-resuscitate and power of attorney declaration forms for Illinois residents can be found at the Illinois Department of Public Health.

    Once written, these documents are intended to be shared and accessible. The ABA even offers the My Health Care Wishes app that allows the information related to your advance directives – or those of a loved one – to be stored and easily accessed on your smartphone.