Planning Ahead for End-of-Life Care
April 16-22 is National Healthcare Decisions Week. It is meant to draw attention to the importance of planning ahead for your end-of-life care. One of the best ways to ensure your wishes are honored is through a variety of documents called advance directives. In Illinois, there are four main types of advance directives.
Health Care Power of Attorney
This legal document names a person you choose to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. The person you name is called your agent and this individual has the ability to make medical decisions for you in case you are unconscious, in a coma, or lack the mental ability to make these decisions on your own. The Health Care Power of Attorney grants your agent the authority to make any healthcare decision on your behalf, up to and including the ability to consent to or refuse any medical treatment, including treatment that could keep you alive. Because their power to act on your behalf is so broad, it is imperative to choose someone you can trust to act in your best interests and to communicate with them (preferably in writing) about what your wishes regarding under what conditions you would or would not want to receive life-saving treatment.
Choosing an Agent
If you wish to name an individual as your healthcare agent, ask the person if he or she is willing to take on that responsibility. If the person agrees, then you should sit down with him or her and have a frank, detailed conversation about your feelings and values concerning health care and the kinds of treatment you would or would not want. Along with this conversation, be sure to give your agent copies of your Living Will and other end-of-life documents. This can help alleviate questions and anxiety during a time of high stress.
A living will outlines what medical procedures you would and would not want to have in the event you cannot communicate these wishes to your healthcare provider. A living will, unlike the Health Care Power of Attorney, applies only if you have a terminal condition. You can use a standard form (available at www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/free-printable-advance-directives/) or you can create your own. The Living Will should include the name of your agent and your agent should have a copy of your Living Will.
A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order directs health care providers to refrain from using cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart and/or breathing stops. A Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form creates an actual medical order that is placed in a patient’s file and can be accessed by paramedics, fire departments, police, emergency rooms, hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. It details what life-sustaining treatments you do and do not want to have in the event you are unable to communicate these wishes. You can create a POLST by having a conversation with your health care provider.
Mental Health Treatment Preference Declaration
Finally, this document lets you state if you want to receive electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) or psychotropic medicine when you have a mental illness and can’t communicate your wishes.
To learn more, please visit the National Healthcare Decision Day website.
Family Home Health Network offers hospice care focused on quality of life, making the end of life an important time of living. The hospice care team’s mission is to help a person’s final days be a time of peace, comfort, and celebration. For information, call 866.320.3300.