Schiavo Case Calls Attention to Need for Advance Healthcare Planning
As attorneys, family members and politicians battled over the right care for Terri Schiavo, the severely brain damaged woman who had been keep alive by life support for 15 years, many Americans gained new awareness of the need to put their end-of-life wishes in writing.
Schiavo was only 26 when she sustained a heart attack that left her in a persistent vegetative state and she, like two-thirds of all Americans, had not left written instructions about the care she would want. The ensuing legal tug-of-war might have been avoided if she had completed advance directives.
We like to think that we will always be capable of making our own healthcare decisions. But the fact is, we cannot predict what will happen...or when. Having a plan figured out ahead of time, and stating clearly who you would want to make the decisions for you if you no longer could, is the best way to ensure that your wishes will be carried out.
There are two types of advance directives:
A health care appointment, also called a durable power of attorney for health care or a health care proxy, is a document that lets you give someone else usually a close friend or relative the power to make decisions for you at those times when you can't speak for yourself.
A health care directive or living will is a document that lets you say what kinds of care you would or would not want if you were nearing the end of your life. This includes "life-sustaining measures," such as CPR, a ventilator (breathing machine), a feeding tube, or antibiotics.
These two kinds of advance directives can be signed as separate papers, or combined in a single form. There are other opportunities for advance health care planning as well, including organ donation, Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) orders, and POLST (Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment) forms.
Do I need an attorney?
You can obtain an advance directive form from your healthcare provider or from a hospital. Click here to download and print out a form from the Washington State Medical Association. In most cases, you can complete the forms on your own. But if you have complex medical issues, or if you believe there would be disagreement among your family members, an attorney can help.
Talking it over
One of the best ways to ensure that your wishes will be carried out is to communicate openly with your health care representative and other family members about your wishes and priorities. Family members are your best advocate in times when you can't make your wishes known.
Also be sure to keep your healthcare provider informed by providing your doctor's office with a copy of your advance directives.
For more information....
The Washington State Medical Association offers information about advance directives and POLST forms.
The Seniors Digest.org Resource Center includes links and resources on advance directives in the "Library" section. Also see "Links You Can Use" in this issue of Seniors Digest.
2005 Caresource Healthcare Communications