Do You Have End-of-Life Instructions Ready, Especially in a Pandemic?

Advance Directive

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Florida Today’s recent article entitled “As COVID-19 spreads, are your end-of-life directives in order?” says that discussing mortality is critical.

The Conversation Project surveyed Americans about the need for end-of-life directives. About 92% of respondents said it was important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, and 95% of them are willing to talk about these wishes. However, just 32% percent have actually had the discussion.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency to start a discussion about how you’d prefer to die. If you don’t have an advance directive, if you were on a ventilator with COVID-19— but that wasn’t your wish—you could survive a long time in a nursing home with a very poor quality of life.

If you don’t have an advance directive, and if you’re unable to speak for yourself without a named agent, the state will decide matters and designate a guardian for you. It will be a person who likely doesn’t know anything about you, but who is legally empowered to make decisions about you.

Your agent will have to make significant, quick decisions for you. Therefore, be sure that this person understands what you want and their choices aren’t based on their own beliefs.

Once you’ve had “the talk,” you must draft a health care proxy or power of attorney to appoint the person to be your proxy, when health care decisions need to be made and you’re unable to communicate for yourself. You’ll also need an advance directive, or living will, that states your wishes on end-of-life medical care and lists treatments you do or not want.

Every state seems to have their own advance directive form, so ask an attorney for help. Once completed, give copies of these documents to your agent, so they can speak to your health care professionals. You should also give a copy to your primary care physician and to anyone else you think should have it. Keep a copy for yourself, and let your family know where the document is located.

Your advance directives should speak to issues, such as DNR, or do not resuscitate, plus the use of a ventilator or tube feeding, hospice and palliative care and organ donation. Completing a living will is not a one-time task. Review it at any time and make changes, as needed.

Few people talk to their family about their end-of-life wishes, and even fewer have actually documented their wishes in advance directives.

However, as the coronavirus spreads, it is even more important to get these documents in place. The topic is a tough one, but the time to talk about it is before you head for the hospital with symptoms.

Reference: Florida Today (April 14, 2020) “As COVID-19 spreads, are your end-of-life directives in order?”