(Public News Service) SEATTLE - Today, of course, is income tax day - but Tuesday is National Healthcare Decision Day. It's a chance to come face-to-face with your own mortality by planning ahead for it. Documents such as a living will and advance directives give loved ones and physicians guidance about your wishes if you are unable to do so.
Will Kennedy is a hospice medical director. He said having a living will is a good start, but this is about more than medical details.
"What are the things that you as a person value - that is, what is 'quality of life' to you? What are different types of circumstances in which you might make different decisions? It's about helping loved ones understand what you would want," he explained.
Kennedy said it is important to put your wishes in writing in the form of advance directives, and every state has slightly different rules and forms. Whatever your preferences, he said, it's important that your doctor also has a record of them.
The discussion does not have to happen all at once, he added. It can be handled in stages, and documents can be updated over time, with greater detail necessary for a person facing a chronic illness. For those who don't want to talk about it, he suggested framing the conversation not about failing health but about providing peace of mind for family members and friends.
"When these issues are not clarified, they can create a tremendous legacy of grief and distress, because they did not know what to do when someone had some type of dramatic medical event," he said, "and they're left with the uncertainty - and sometimes guilt - about making decisions on what they thought that person would have wanted."
The group "Compassion and Choices" points out that Alzheimer's and related dementias add a complication that should be addressed early. Most advance directives only take effect if a person is terminally ill or unconscious, and people who suffer from dementia may be neither, but still are unable to make medical decisions.
Links to state-specific advance-directive forms are available at www.compassionandchoices.org.