ICBioethics Blog 

Add This to Your New Year Resolutions “TO DO” List

Written by: Aimee Zellers

Now is the time for New Year resolutions; but why draft a new list when there is still unfinished business from years past? According to a survey by the PEW Research Center in 2006, only about 29% of the American population has an advance directive that outlines which medical treatments they wish and do not wish to receive at the end of their lives. (This means that if you are reading this you probably don’t have one.) End of life issues may not be the most pleasant topic of conversation to have with loved ones; however, mild unpleasantries today can help avoid serious challenges and uncertainties later. It is difficult for surrogate decision makers and physicians to make informed medical decisions on behalf of a patient even when there is an advance directive. When no advance directive is available it puts family members, decision makers, and physicians in a very difficult position.

There are two primary types of advance directives that allow individuals to specify what type of medical treatment they wish to receive at the end of life (i.e. CPR, feeding tube, ventilator) they are living wills and durable health care power of attorney. There are a few key differences between the two. Living wills clarify end of life decisions when the individual loses decision making capacity, has a chronic or terminal illness and has about six months to live. The durable health care power of attorney appoints a decision maker and can be enacted at any point in time when the patient loses the capacity to make decisions or is incapacitated. Between the two types, a durable health care power of attorney is more flexible and generally recommended.

Here are the facts:

  1. Having an advance directive helps and removes some of the stress of those you care for who may have to make decisions on your behalf.
  2. It is not expensive and many states do not require them to be drafted or reviewed by an attorney.
  3. You can get the forms for free online. Most states provide these resources to their constituents and require only a few dollars for notarization (and some states don’t even require notarization).

It is helpful to consult family members, your primary care physician, as well as an attorney when filling out and filing advance directives. It is also advisable to place a copy of your advance directive with any existing will or estate documents, as well as with your primary care physician and next of kin. This year, do not remain part of the 71% of Americans who do not have an advance directive. Take action!

Check out these sample advance directives for the state of Pennsylvania:

Advance Directives

Living Will

Mitch GennusoComment