5 Reasons Why You (Yes, YOU!) Need an Advance Care Directive

What would you do if you were suddenly medically incapacitated? Would you want to be kept alive, given pain medications, or fed intravenously? Or, does the idea of being kept alive via medical machinery repulse you? Do you have a plan or directions for this sort of unexpected situation?

You are probably thinking the same thing that I did about this kind of "planning." I figured I could probably avoid doing anything about wills or Advanced Health Directives until much later in life. That's something only old people do, right?

But an Advance Healthcare Directive is an important legal document that spells out instructions for your care — at any age. Young people get sick, too, and terrible accidents can happen at any age. If you become physically or mentally incapacitated and cannot express your wishes for medical treatment, the document directs providers how to proceed with your medication, life support, feeding, and other essential care.

I've done some very hard thinking about Advanced Directives recently, and decided to sign one. Here is what it came down to.

1. I Continue to Hold the Power

If something were to happen to me tomorrow, whom would I trust to make decisions for me and carry out my wishes? Signing the directive would give me the ultimate power to direct my care — and decide who I want to execute them if I'm incapacitated. I am fortunate in that I have my husband and daughter to see my wishes through.

2. It Will Relieve a Burden on My Family

"The importance of having an advance directive benefits not only the individual but the family members and other professional healthcare providers that may need to care for someone facing a serious or life-limiting illness," notes J. Donald Schumacher, President and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. "Equally important are the frank conversations that loved ones have with each other and care providers about the care that they would or would not want."

3. It's Easy to Sign

My doctor provided me with an Advance Directive form, but they are also readily available on the Internet. In my state, you do not have to see an attorney (or even a notary) to sign a directive. I just asked a good friend to serve as witness on the form, which is legally binding in my state. If you do see an attorney to have wills or estate planning done, the Advance Healthcare Directive will likely be part of the package. Check your state's requirements about witnesses, notarization, and so forth.

4. It's Even More Important for Young (or Single) Folks

Just because you are young does not mean it's the wrong time to sign. As Stanford University says:

"Even though a younger person may not think it is important to have an advanced directive, one of the most common reasons young people visit emergency rooms is trauma, and in such cases individuals can lose the ability to speak for themselves. Furthermore, a single person living alone may have no one to speak for him/her regarding resuscitative measures."

That's right — young or single folks need a directive as much as anyone.

5. It Doesn't Mean That I'm Giving Up

On my form, I can check that I want, for example:

  • To have my life prolonged as much as possible within the limits of generally accepted healthcare standards that apply;
  • That I want artificial nutrition and hydration;
  • That I want treatment to relieve my pain or discomfort.

It's not fun to think about the end of life or a possible tragedy. But signing an Advance Healthcare Directive is one way to reduce stress around these decisions and ensure your wishes are met.

Have you created and signed an advanced care directive? Tell us about your decision in comments.

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