Recently, I read a story written by a nurse. It was about a patient who did not design a Living Will that accurately recorded her end-of-life wishes so that her family members could refer to it. The story recounted in vivid detail what the patient had wanted for the end of her life, and what was done instead. As a nurse who has worked at hospital bedsides for many years, I too have witnessed similar scenarios play out. In essence, such a story should remind us of how important it is to have a conversation with family, friends and physicians, so they know our wishes for end-of-life care, and can then comply with them.
One way to accomplish this is to have an advanced directive. Advance directives are legal documents that convey to others what your medical decisions are, should you be unable to make the decisions for yourself. Examples of advanced directives include: Living Will (PDF), or Health Care Proxy (PDF). The requirements for these documents may vary by state, but it’s always a good idea to at least have a Health Care Proxy or Living Will in place to give guidance to health care providers.
It is probably good to have both types of documents. Starting the conversation about something most of us want to avoid is important. This is the talk I had with a friend a few years ago, and she has discussed with me what she would and would not want done. I am glad she feels that I am someone who will honor her wishes if and when the time comes. Now, to fill out my own paperwork…..