Health Break | Published April 14, 2008 | Written by Kathy Dittmann, RN

Prepare Family For Your Last Wish

Prepare family for your last wish

April 16th will mark the first National Healthcare Decisions Day. Hospitals throughout Pennsylvania and the nation are asking all of us to think about, and make provisions for, the kind of health care we would want should a catastrophic accident or illness make us unable to express our wishes to family, loved ones, and doctors. Sometimes we think that everyone in our family knows what we would want and we assume that they will carry out our wishes. However, family and friends sometimes struggle emotionally when asked to make an end-life decision for a loved one. Also, family members may have difficulty remembering the exact details of what someone may want or not want. At times family members cannot come to consensus on a decision, or there may be unusual family dynamics that make end-of life situations extremely stressful.

It is estimated that only about 15 percent of people have executed an advance directive. Moreover, less than 50 percent of severely or terminally ill patients have an advance directive in their medical records. A significant reason for this low number is that there is considerable confusion in the public about advance directives. For example:

  • People do not know what advance directives are and may incorrectly thinking they are only documents used to decline treatment;

  • People want to execute advance directives, but do not know how or think it is expensive; and/or

  • People are afraid to talk about health care planning when they are healthy

Everyone should have the opportunity to express what they would want should they ever not have the capacity to make medical decisions. A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney may be determined by you to speak on your behalf for healthcare decisions should you not have the capacity to make medical decisions. Your physician would determine your ability to understand and make medical decisions. The decision making power is limited to when you are unable to make decisions, which can be temporary or permanent. A Living Will provides health care treatment instructions in the event of end-stage medical condition or permanent unconsciousness and there is no realistic hope of significant recovery.

Making an advance directive about endof-life care is a written expression of your wishes whatever they are. You may choose to have aggressive interventions, choose some interventions, or choose no interventions. The point is that YOU choose what you want and you document your wishes clearly for others to follow. National Health Care Decision Day is a nationwide observance to increase public awareness of how important it is for all of us to consider, and write down, the kind of care we would want should we face a debilitating, terminal health condition with no hope of improvement. At Mount Nittany Medical Center we see firsthand the difficult decisions faced by families when the wishes of gravely-ill loved ones, no longer able to communicate, are unknown. Its our responsibility to inform our community about end-of-life health care issues and to encourage the documentation of health care decisions and requests.

On April 16th Mount Nittany Medical Center will provide free information about end-of-life care health care decision-making and advance directives forms. Just drop by Conference Room 4 any time between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm to talk with someone and have your questions answered. Enter the Medical Center through Entrance A, the main entrance at the front of the building and follow the signs to your left.

Kathy Dittmann, RN, is the service excellence coordinator at Mount Nittany Medical Center.