National Healthcare Decisions Day is on April 16th, and it's an important reminder for every adult to begin having conversations with loved ones about their most private wishes for medical and end-of-life care.
Far too many people assume that their families would make the choices they would want in an emergency. Yet every day we hear stories of adult children, siblings, or other relatives battling during a healthcare crisis over “what their loved one would have wanted” in that situation.
Incapacity Can Happen at Any Age
The coronavirus pandemic has been a reminder to all of us that illness and even incapacity can happen at any age. Over the past year, many adults, for the first time ever, expressed their thoughts about being placed on a ventilator and/or receiving experimental medication should they become seriously ill with COVID-19.
But planning must go beyond an initial discussion. You must also clearly and legally document your preferences, as well as choose an “Agent” whom you trust to make such decisions if you are unable to speak for yourself.
Documenting Your Wishes Takes Pressure Off of Loved Ones
Remember, emotions can run high during a healthcare crisis, and it might be hard for your loved ones to stop life support, for example, when they desperately want you around. Having your wishes spelled out in writing helps provide guidance during a stressful time and makes these types of decisions easier for your loved ones, especially in cases when other family members don't agree.
How to Start “Tough Conversations” About Medical Care
In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day, set aside time this month to have conversations with loved ones about your personal preferences for medical or long-term care. Here are some important issues to consider:
- Whom do you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf?
- How do you feel about feeding tubes, life support, and other artificial life-saving devices?
- Is there any type of medical care you would NEVER want?
- If you were permanently disabled or incapacitated, what would contribute or take away from your “quality of life?”
- What are your thoughts on nursing home vs. in-home healthcare?
- How would you like your family to pay for the care you may need if co-pays become excessive or insurance does not cover your treatment?
A Final Consideration About Your Choice of Healthcare Agent
One final point to consider when documenting your wishes and choosing a healthcare agent that will ultimately carry them out is that the person you nominate should want to have this responsibility. There are people who do not want or cannot handle making medical decisions– even for their own spouse.
Remember, if the time comes that the healthcare directive needs to be used, it is going to be a very stressful and emotional time for this person. Are they up for the job? Do they want the job? Take the time to have an additional conversation with whomever you are considering ensuring that they can, and are willing to, make the decisions that you would want in a crisis situation.