Healthcare Directives & End-of-Life Decisions: What You NEED to Know

It can happen in an instant.

A car accident. Cancer. An unexpected situation can suddenly flip your life upside down.

Or perhaps your health has been in decline for many years.

Maybe you are nearing the end of life.

Whatever it may be, critical medical decisions will need to be made on your behalf should you become unable to do so. The right measures should be in place to protect you and your loved ones from undesired, premature death – that does not reflect the dignity of human life.

How can you make sure of this?

A healthcare directive is a legal, end-of-life document completed by competent adults that direct your healthcare professionals and your agent on making medical decisions should you become incapacitated. It can ensure that your end-of-life wishes are respected, and that all medical decisions at the end of your life are carried out in a way that values and protects your life.

So at what age should you fill out your healthcare directive?

This might surprise you, but you should fill it out once you have reached the age of 18.

After 18, an individual is no longer a minor, and parental involvement in medical decisions in the case of a tragic accident can be prevented due to the privacy provisions required for medical care.

When discussing end of life wishes before the threat of death or illness is upon your family, it helps to have a straightforward and clear discussion.  Young adults often feel “invincible” and don’t want to consider end of life issues. Trust us, the end of life discussion never becomes easier, so the sooner it’s taken care of the better off you’ll be and you could save your family a lot of heartache.

Good times to reassess your end of life documents and make adjustments are when you get married, have your first child, have a surgical procedure done, and when you become a senior citizen. Do not wait until it is too late. This can place strain on family members and possibly lead to long-lasting family feuds.

So where do you start?

There are three types of healthcare directives:

  1. Living Will (Directive to Physicians)
  2. POLST form (or DNR)
  3. Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC)

 

PLEASE NOTE:

Both the Living Will and the POLST form give medical directions without having knowledge of the circumstances or medical facts of a situation you may face in the future. We strongly discourage filling out the Living Will or the POLST form.

What is the Living Will?

The Living Will is the healthcare directive provided by the state of Illinois. After careful review, we have determined that all of the state of Illinois forms are not written to protect your life. The State’s documents lack clarity and precision in interpreting and enumerating end of life wishes allowing hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices to err on the side of death. The state’s forms can cause great confusion during end of life circumstances and encourage stress to be placed upon your family.

What is the POLST form?

The POLST form has recently replaced the Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order.  Though there may be circumstances as a person nears death when a DNR is needed, extreme caution should be taken before completing the POLST form to serve as a DNR order. If you are young and healthy, we absolutely discourage the signing of a DNR.  Every action should be taken to save your life and a DNR tells a doctor not to save your life. The POLST form is an “actionable medical order” that is to be carried out over any objections by family or friends. You should never be pressured or required to sign a POLST form.

What is the Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC)?

A DPAHC gives your healthcare agent (the person you designate to make medical decisions in an emergency situation) access to medical facts and options regarding your current medical state, should you be incapacitated. From there, your agent can make an informed decision on the best medical option for you. We believe this is the best option.

So how should you go about completing your DPAHC?

  1. Carefully determine who will serve as your healthcare agent for your Durable Power of Attorney. This person will make your medical decisions should you be unable to do so. Selecting the wrong agent is just as dangerous as completing the wrong advanced directive. Have several conversations with your agent before making your decision.
  2. Complete a healthcare directive. In order to protect yourself or your loved ones, we recommend using National Right to Life’s “Will to Live” form and accompanying suggestions. This document helps you specify your end of life wishes in a life-affirming manner. If you need help filling out this form, please call us at (312)-422-9300 or email us at Info@IllinoisRightToLife.org.
  3. Complete organ donation documents, opting yourself out of donating vital organs. See more information about organ donation here.
  4. Complete the forms, having them properly signed and notarized.
  5. After you have very carefully chosen who will serve as your agent in making healthcare decisions, have several long, open conversations with that person over the course of your life, as circumstances change to ensure your end of life wishes are clear.

For the safety and protection of the lives of you and your loved ones, we highly recommend that these steps be taken. It is also good practice to request to view the medical file the hospital has for you or the person you make healthcare decisions for. This will ensure there are no mistakes or directives (like a DNR) placed in your file without your consent. Taking these precautions will ensure that you and your loved ones are in good hands.

To learn more about the different healthcare directives, the growing threat of euthanasia, and Illinois law, visit the link here.