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Who Will Make Your Healthcare Decisions if You Cannot?

National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) is held on April 16th each year. It exists to inspire, educate and empower the public and healthcare providers about the importance of advance care planning. The NHDD initiative encourages patients to express their wishes regarding healthcare, and providers and facilities to respect those wishes, whatever they may be. NHDD was founded in 2008 to provide clear, concise, and consistent information on healthcare decision-making to both the public and providers through the widespread availability and dissemination of simple, free, and uniform materials and content to guide the process.

It is somewhat ironic that NHDD will occur this year during a worldwide pandemic. As a result, during this unprecedented time of social distancing and other mitigation measures, many NHDD-related events have been cancelled. Still, advance care planning remains as important as ever. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis serves as a reminder of the importance of doing advance planning should you ever be stricken with an illness or medical condition that could render you incapable of making an important decision about your own care.

“During this pandemic, many hospitalized people may not be able to speak for themselves, and sadly, family and friends cannot visit. Our frontline health care providers are desperate for any information about their patients’ medical wishes. One of the most time-consuming challenges health care workers are facing right now is finding their patients’ health care proxy,” said Rebecca Sudore, MD, FAAHPM, founder and director of PREPARE for Your Care, an easy-to-use website with video stories and free advance directives.  National Healthcare Decisions Day is an opportunity to consider, discuss and document what you do or don’t want.”

An Advance Health Care Directive, is a document that allows you to appoint a person, or group of people, to be able to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so. This document can be written such that you are still in control of your health care decisions so long as you are able, even by blinking your eyes, to make informed health care decisions. However, it allows you to tell your medical providers who they are allowed to consult if you are unconscious or incapacitated.

Similarly, it is important to ensure that your health care documents include living will provisions, or evidence of your wishes for end-of-life treatment. For example, if you were in a vegetative state and your physician concludes that there is no realistic hope of recovery, would you want to receive artificial nutrition (tube feeding) to keep you alive as long as possible, or would you prefer comfort measures only rather than prolong the process of dying. You are in control of these decisions, and these documents allow you to give a written record of your wishes to ensure they are respected, even if you are not able to express them.

At Santa Barbara Estate Planning & Elder Law, we assist clients in developing Advance Health Care Directives, as well as numerous other types of legal documents and advance planning. We are a full-service estate planning and elder law firm that specializes in helping our clients prepare for their second half of life.  We remain open and in remote operation to serve our clients during the COVID-19 outbreak. For more information, visit SBElderLaw.com or call (805) 946-1550 for a free consultation.