Advance Directives: A Plan for the Future

By Rita Southern, Director of Assisted Living and Resident Support Services, Shell Point Retirement Community

People are often uncomfortable thinking about or talking with others about the end of their lives. We all plan for other life events, like birth, graduations, weddings, and birthdays, but often we leave preparation for the end of our lives until the very end. Advance directives are important tools to have in place as each individual works to convey their thoughts and preferences to their family and friends. You have the right to decide what kind of care you want or do not want, to choose where you want to spend the last days of your life, and to make clear what you would like from people close to you.

A health care advance directive is a paper that expresses a person’s wishes about his or her health care. Some people write them when they are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Others put their wishes into writing while they are healthy, often as part of their estate planning – like writing a will or buying life insurance.

Types of health care advance directives include:

· Living will – a written form that describes if you want certain life-prolonging medical care provided, withheld, or withdrawn if you are unable to make your own decisions and you have a terminal illness or are in a persistent vegetative state.

· Health care surrogate designation – a written document naming another person as your representative to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. You can include instructions about any treatment you want or do not want, similar to a living will. You can also choose an alternate surrogate. If you choose a health care surrogate and alternate, be sure to ask them if they agree to take this responsibility, discuss how you would like matters handled, and give them a copy of the document.

· Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNRO) – a form to identify people who do not wish to be revived if they are not breathing or if their heart stops. The DNRO is a specific document from the Florida Department of Health. Your attorney or health care provider may have copies available for your use. The DNRO form is requested and signed by you, or your legal representative, and must be signed by your doctor in order to be legally valid.

It is good practice to spend a few minutes reviewing your advanced directives at least once a year to ensure that the documents continue to reflect your wishes. Also remember that once you have these documents in place, they should be updated as circumstances change with you or those that you have chosen to represent your interests.