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Advance Health Care Directives 101

How To Talk With Family About Your Wishes About What To Do If You Become Incapacitated And Can't Speak For Yourself

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Talking about the possibility of incapacitation is not an easy topic for your family and friends any more than it is for you. However, it is up to you to take the initiative and express your wishes.

Since you have been diagnosed with a serous health condition, people who care about you are likely to think the discussion morbid. You can make the discussion easier by taking the focus off of you. For example, make the discussion about what each of you want in case any of you become incapacitated and unable to communicate or is suddenly in an end-of-life situation. After all, as we see every day on the news, anything can happen to any of us at any time.

A holiday or other family gathering is a good time to have the discussion. The override of the reason for the gathering can help keep the discussion in perspective.

If it's easier, or there is a time sensitive situation in which the risk of something happening is increased such as entering a hospital for an operation, have the discussion one-on-one with family members.

It may help to focus the discussion on your general values, personal concerns and religious or spiritual belief instead of specific treatments or circumstances.For example, talk about:

  • What you value most in life. For example, living a long life, or living an active life.
  • How you feel about death and dying. For example, do you fear it? Did someone else's death affect your thinking?
  • How important is it to you to be physically independent?
  • Would it matter how your health condition affects your finances?  How it affects other people?
  • How much pain and risk would you be willing to accept if your chances of recovery from an illness or an injury were 50/50 or better? If your chances of recovery were poor, say less than 1 in 10?
  • Do you have religious or spiritual values that affect what you think about any particular treatments, death, or dying?
  • Other beliefs or values you have that should be considered when people make medical decisions for you.
  • How do you feel about dying at home instead of somewhere else?

The discussion is an opportunity to find out whether other people close to you have executed Advance Directives. If they haven't, encourage them to do so. Set a deadline to help people to act.  


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