(The following is a press release from Forrest General Hospital. Visit www.forrestgeneral.com or call 1-800-844-4445 for more details.)
Hattiesburg, Miss. (June 21, 2017) It always seems too early, until it's too late. This sentiment no doubt resonates with any family faced with challenging end-of-life decisions. These heartbreaking legal struggles often make national headlines, like the case of Theresa Marie "Terri" Schiavo. After suffering a cardiac arrest in her St. Petersburg, Florida, home, Terri was resuscitated and remained in a persistent vegetative state for more than a decade from 1990 until 2005. Terri's husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, argued in favor of removing her feeding tube. He insisted that Terri would not want to live on artificial support. Terri's parents challenged her medical diagnosis and demanded that she be kept alive. In 2005, fifteen years after Terri's diagnosis, her feeding tube was removed, and Terri died on March 31, 2005.
Though certainly not as highly publicized as the Schiavo case, situations like hers are not uncommon. These cases serve as a somber reminder about the importance of planning for these unexpected circumstances.
Advance care planning is the ongoing process of planning for future medical decisions and is important for everyone, including people who are young and healthy. Advance care planning involves reflection on goals, values and beliefs; understanding possible future situations and medical treatments; and appointing someone (frequently referred to as a healthcare agent, medical power-of-attorney, or surrogate decision maker) to speak for the patient when they cannot speak for themselves. The final step in the advance care planning process is the completion of an advance directive, the document where goals, values and wishes are written.
After completing the advance care planning process and penning a document, it is important to provide a copy of the document to the person selected to be the decision maker, primary care provider, family and hospital. Also, it is important to keep in mind that advance care planning is not a one-time event. It is important to revisit advance care planning conversations and advanced directives since goals and wishes may change over time or as circumstances change.
These discussions can be difficult to initiate which highlights the importance of seeing advance care planning as a normal process that everyone should participate in regardless of age or health. What a gift it can be to know a person's wishes—whatever they may be—and to honor those choices to the greatest degree possible.