Opinion: Now’s the time to fill out an advanced health care directive

There are steps anyone can take to prepare for the end of life in a positive, constructive way.

  • Friday, March 27, 2020 9:00am
  • Opinion

As many hunker down for now, we have an opportunity to reflect on many things about life that we are usually too busy to think about, or maybe we just don’t want to think about. It is a good idea to be thinking about the safety of our families and we should plan for uncertainty.

But now is a good time to prepare ourselves and our families for one of the few things that is certain in life: that we all die. This is a topic that many people want to avoid. However, when the time comes, a little planning now makes a very important difference. There are some simple steps anyone can take to prepare for the end of life in a positive, constructive way.

First, fill out and sign an advanced health care directive and give a copy to your spouse, partner, children, other relative and your doctor. A directive explains exactly the kind of health care you want when you can’t make your own decisions, and exactly what you do not want. An advance directive that follows Alaska law is available at http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Director/Pages/LivingWill.aspx.

This important document is easy to fill out and it will protect you from treatments you have decided you do not want. Alternatively, it protects you from someone giving up hope on you before you have had the treatments that you do want. You designate someone to speak for you — someone who will make sure your wishes are carried out if you can’t speak for yourself.

In my directive, for example, I designate my wife as the person who makes decisions for me if I cannot. Mine directs that I want pain medication at the end of my life. I also direct that I do not want extraordinary measures to extend my life such as artificial hydration, nutrition or any artificial means to keep me alive, like mechanical ventilation.

The Foundation for the End of Life Care is a Juneau-based organization that has been serving hospice and the public for decades. The Foundation recently published the second edition of its book, “A Guide for Helping Those You Love When You’re Not Here,” which can be ordered from the Foundation through its website.

The foundation’s mission is to support end-of-life services including hospice, bereavement care and community education. As part of its community education mission, the foundation encourages everyone to make good use of this time we have while we are home social distancing.

Do a will.

Describe your burial or cremation decisions in advance and how you want your property distributed. Help out whoever has to write your obituary. Leave some notes about yourself and how you want to be remembered, along with a favorite hymn or reading that you would like to be part of a memorial. Sign a power of attorney designating a person who can make bindings decisions if you are not able. The Foundation and many other organizations, such as AARP and Alaska Legal Services, want to help. Have a look at their websites. Most lawyers can be very helpful about all of this, too.

Make good use of this time at home, get some advice if you want it, but get these basic things done.

• Bruce B. Weyhrauch is President of the Foundation for End of Life Care, Inc. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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