T.S. Eliot said that. And Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” What could be crueler than death and taxes? It appears April is now the month for both.

April 16, the day after tax day, has been designated National Healthcare Decisions Day.* Not exactly death, but an admission that death is certain and that it’s good to give at least one day to prepare for it. We can do this by filling out and filing one more document when we’re finished with our taxes. The document, an Advance Directive, informs medical personnel who will make healthcare decisions for us if we’re not able.

Why do I need it? Simply put, there are many healthcare decisions to be made in our highly technical medical world. In the event you are incapacitated for any reason, this simple document puts someone who knows your values and loves you in charge of making them for you.

Who should have one? Every human being, 18 and over, healthy or ill. We naturally think this document is for the elderly or terminally ill. But the Patient’s Rights Council shares this scenario:

Joe and Sally are married with three children – 15-year-old Bob, 18-year-old Tom and 20-year-old Mary. Driving home from a local restaurant, Joe and Sally are hit head-on by another car. Joe is killed. Sally is in critical condition.

Sally’s twin sister, Sue, who is very close to Sally and with whom Sally had often discussed her wishes about health care, rushes to the hospital. She attempts to get information about Sally’s condition. She is told the law prohibits disclosing such information to her. Instead, the information can be given to Tom and Mary who, under state law, have the authority to make medical decisions for their mother.

Unfortunately, Tom and Mary do not get along with each other and the law requires agreement between them before any action can be taken. This leads to a delay in authorizing treatment that could have vastly improved Sally’s ability to recover fully.” For more information visit: patientsrightscouncil.org/site/do-you-need-an-advance-directive.

How do I fill it out? Dr. John Dunlop offers the following suggestions:

Do not give specific directions for your medical care. Many state forms give a check-off list that includes such things as resuscitation, ventilator, and artificial nutrition and hydration. I do not suggest you indicate a preference for or against these, It seems much wiser to leave those boxes blank and give your [Durable] power of attorney [for Healthcare] full freedom to make the wisest choices he or she can. Then write a paragraph indicating your values. If you give instructions that are very specific, they may have results that you never intended.1

Where should I keep it?

  1. Keep the original in a secure, but accessible file and tell others where the file is.  LIFT suggests a Medical Emergency Packet that also includes Current Medications, and Emergency Contact Information.
  2. Give a copy to your designated Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.
  3. Give a copy to your doctor(s).

Links to Advance Directive Documents at LMW:

Please take this opportunity to gift your family with an Advance Directive that can help take stress out of an already emotional situation. No one ever plans to be sick or disabled. Yet, it’s just this kind of preparation that can make all the difference in an emergency.

1. Dunlop, John. Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011.Print.

*Due to Tax Day falling on a weekend, National Healthcare Decisions Day will be a week-long event, from April 16 to 22.

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