National Healthcare Decisions Day: Are your wishes known?

There are many choices we make throughout our lifetime, from where we go out for dinner to where we raise our families. At times, however, our lives can change in an instant—not by choice but by circumstances out of our control. We may be struck by a drunk driver, be diagnosed with a terminal illness, or have an unexpected health crisis which limits or removes the option for us to make choices for ourselves. 

One of the most challenging things a healthcare provider has to do is ask a patient's family members to make medical decisions on behalf of their loved one. While necessary, it adds an additional burden to those who are already reeling from fear, sadness, and other emotions. All too often, relationship-altering conflicts arise between parents, siblings, spouses, and others as they debate the right course of action.

National Healthcare Decisions Day, observed April 16, was created to educate individuals about the importance of advanced care planning. It also serves as an excellent opportunity for couples and families to begin to have meaningful conversations about end-of-life care.

According to The Conversation Project National Survey, 92 percent of people say that talking with loved ones about end-of-life care is important, but only 32 percent have actually done so. In a similar survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 37 percent of those surveyed had put their wishes into writing.   

Ask yourself the following: if you were physically unable to communicate your wishes to your physician, who would you want to speak for you? Are there kinds of care you would want or not want (for example, a feeding tube or breathing machine.)  Do you want to be an organ donor? 

Now ask yourself if anyone knows wishes and if they’re written down. If the answer is no, or if it’s been a number of years since you’ve discussed them, now is the best time to do it.  

While it may be difficult to think or talk about advanced care planning, the benefits to you and those you care about are many. It ensures that your medical, spiritual and personal preferences are respected while alleviating the need for your loved ones to make decisions during an already stressful time.

Resources are available to make advanced care planning easier. Five Wishes forms, written in an easy-to-complete and easy-to-understand format, are available at no cost from your SCL Health primary care provider or for purchase at FiveWishes.org. Additional advanced care planning information can be found at NHDD.org. 

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