Advance care planning is not just about old age. At any age, a medical crisis could leave you too ill to make your own healthcare decisions. Even if you are not sick now, planning for health care in the future is an important step toward making sure you get the medical care you would want, if you are unable to speak for yourself and doctors and family members are making the decisions for you.
What Is Advance Care Planning?
Advance care planning involves learning about the types of decisions that might need to be made, considering those decisions ahead of time, and then letting others know—both your family and your healthcare providers—about your preferences. These preferences are often put into an advance directive, a legal document that goes into effect only if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. This could be the result of disease or severe injury—no matter how old you are. It helps others know what type of medical care you want. An advance directive also allows you to express your values and desires related to end-of-life care. You might think of it as a living document—one that you can adjust as your situation changes because of new information or a change in your health.
Advance Care Planning Decisions
Sometimes decisions must be made about the use of emergency treatments to keep you alive. Doctors can use several artificial or mechanical ways to try to do this. Decisions that might come up at this time relate to:
CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
Artificial nutrition (tube feeding) and artificial hydration (IV, or intravenous, fluids)
Making Your Advance Care Wishes Known
There are two main elements in an advance directive—a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. There are also other documents that can supplement your advance directive. You can choose which documents to create, depending on how you want decisions to be made. These documents include:
Durable power of attorney for health care
Other advance care planning documents
Living will: A living will is a written document that helps you tell doctors how you want to be treated if you are dying or permanently unconscious and cannot make your own decisions about emergency treatment.
Durable power of attorney for health care: A durable power of attorney for health care is a legal document naming a healthcare proxy, someone to make medical decisions for you at times when you are unable to do so. Your proxy, also known as a representative, surrogate, or agent, should be familiar with your values and wishes.
Some people are reluctant to put specific health decisions in writing. For them, naming a healthcare agent might be a good approach, especially if there is someone they feel comfortable talking with about their values and preferences. A named proxy can evaluate each situation or treatment option independently.
Medical issues that might arise at the end of life include:
Organ and tissue donation
Physician (or Medical) Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment forms
Courtesy of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Pacific Southwest District