For those who have read the most recent blog entries, you may have wondered how you or someone you care about would respond to serious illnesses. There are often uncomfortable thoughts that come to mind when you think of your own situation – perhaps your past intent to “get things in order” or simply not understanding all the implications of such health care choices.

As you consider end of life issues, you may recall that formerly a document of instruction was referred to as a “living will.” In literal terms, a will is a document that goes into effect after death. From a healthcare perspective, the decisions about what health care you wish to have is now known as an Advance Care Directive. It becomes a legal document after it is witnessed and signed by you. A signed copy of the Advance Care Directive is to be given to your healthcare providers to become a part of your healthcare records.

Often a person’s family is resistant to discuss end-of-life issues because it is hard to do. However, anyone who reads, watches or hears the news has a good opening to ask family members how they would feel about emergency care for themselves or for you. Another helpful conversation starter is after learning of the illness or injury of another person, or after attending a funeral. For those who completed the living will in the past, it is still effective. But it recommended to review it when you reach a new decade of life, when you have a new health diagnosis, if your previously-named agent has died or is no longer able to serve in that capacity, or if you or your agent may have divorced and no longer have the same relationship with you.

The 2018 forms for Advance Care Planning have been improved to a two-page short form, with additional pages that give more detailed preferences for healthcare. But, as of right now, the question is this: If you could not speak, what care should be given, or not given, if there is not likelihood of recovery? The planning document gives you the opportunity to indicate that, if you were to be permanently unconscious with no chance of recovery, you would prefer: 1) all life sustaining treatments be given, or 2) no live-sustaining treat-ments be given, or 3) I can’t decide, my agent shall work with healthcare personnel to make my decision for me.

It is required that the individual making an Advance Care Directive choose someone to serve as “agent,” to make decisions according to the wishes of the person who is ill. An agent agrees to serve as your advocate, will follow your instructions, has legal power to access medical records, can decide when to start and stop treatments, and may choose the healthcare team and place of care. The agent makes the decisions based on what you want, based on prior discussions and instructions. It is most helpful if your agent lives reasonably close to you, for ease and frequency of in-person conversation with you and your healthcare providers.

Your parish nurse is available by appointment for personal consultations and advice as it applies to your particular situation. Later this year there will be opportunity for group discussion of this topic. Note: If you have your documents signed and given to your healthcare providers from the past, they remain in effect until or unless you make changes to them.

Contact your parish nurse, Dorothy Ellerbroek, at 612-518-4357 for additional information or to discuss questions if you have them.