You can’t know for certain whether end-of-life decision making will be needed in regard to your healthcare or whether you’ll ever be unable to communicate your wishes. But you can be prepared for these possibilities by creating a legal document, called an advance healthcare directive, that describes what you want done.
“When properly signed and witnessed, this document gives you the ability to name one or more healthcare agents to act in your behalf and/ or spell out your healthcare wishes for a time when you are incapable of making decisions for yourself,” says Cheryl Bartholomew, an advance healthcare directive counselor at El Camino Hospital.
Bartholomew schedules free appointments at El Camino’s Health Library Resource Center to help people draw up advance care directives for use in hospital settings. She can assist you in filling out easy-to- understand forms and answer questions. Some instructions that you can specify, for example, involve organ donation and the provision to withhold or withdraw life support (such as feeding or breathing tubes).
As for who needs an advance healthcare directive, Bartholomew says the answer is simple: “Everybody who is age 18 and older and has full mental capacity,” she says. “Taking this step is empowering. People tell me it takes a huge load off their mind because their wishes will be respected, and loved ones will be relieved of making difficult decisions.”
Bartholomew’s Tips for Your Counseling Session and After
- Even before you come in, “it’s ideal if you have a conversation with the people you want to be your agents and tell them what kind of care you’d want.”
- If you’ve already completed an advance healthcare directive, “we can help you revisit or revise it, so long as it’s a legal form recognized by the state of California.”
- Make copies of your completed advance care directive, and give one to everyone you want to see it. “If you have a le cabinet or something similar, I highly recommend you keep the original right in the front, label it clearly, and tell your agent or whoever lives in your house where it is.”
To schedule an appointment for assistance in preparing an advance care directive, please call 650-940-7210.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2015 edition of the El Camino Hospital Health Beat magazine.