Death is a difficult topic of discussion for just about everyone. As human beings, we’re unique in the world in that we are the only species acutely aware that our life has a definite endpoint. Despite that knowledge, very few of us actually ever want to think about the end, when it will come or how we will handle it. This is among the reasons why many people fail to plan for what will happen to them in the event of an accident, a life-threatening injury or a critical illness. In these situations, it’s important to have an Advance Care Plan in place so your health care providers know what your wishes are for your care, your future and your life. April 16 is National Advance Directives Day, so it’s a good time to take a look at what plans are available and how to go about getting one.
“The Tennessee State Board of Health now lists a ‘living will’ or ‘advance directive as an ‘Advance Care Plan,’” said Anne Van Curen from Blount Memorial Hospice. “An Advance Care Plan form tells your doctor how to treat you if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. For instance, you may choose to have no further life-saving actions, such as CPR, kidney dialysis or a feeding tube. You also may include that you choose to be pain-free and comfortable at the end of life, and add any other special instructions, as well. This form protects you, your family and your doctor, and assures your wishes are met when you are not able to speak for yourself,” Van Curen explained. “It’s not the same as a Durable Power of Attorney. Those allow you to appoint a trusted person to make health care and end-of-life decisions for you when you’re not able to do so yourself. Advance Care Plans allow you to make those decisions for yourself and have them in place. They’re for people of all ages, and they’re important because one never knows when an emergency might occur,” she added.
“Without an Advanced Care Plan, you have no choice of what treatment you may or may not receive,” Van Curen continued. “If a family does not know what to do, it may be assumed that all life-prolonging measures will be done. Some surgeries that include the use of a ventilator or other heroic or invasive attempts could be implemented, as well, if your wishes are not known or protected,” she said. “There are different types of Advance Care Plans, however, that you can choose to complete, and they can vary from state to state. There are at least three different kinds you can complete in Tennessee, so it’s important that you do some research to determine which is best for you. You can find lots of information by going to tn.gov and searching for ‘advance care plan.’ Often, people think they need an attorney to set up their Advance Care Plan, but you actually only need two witnesses and, in some cases, a notary,” she explained. “Also, they’re very easy to change as you get older – often, you can just complete a new form,” she added.
Blount Memorial Hospice offers more helpful information for choosing and completing Advance Care Plans. For more information, call 865-977-5702.