Declaring health care wishes a gift to family

Online Staff Report

Comedian Woody Allen is known for his humorous take on death. “I’m not afraid of dying,” he said. “I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Yet, Allen, and each of us, will be at the end of our life at some point. We can’t live forever, but we can plan ahead so the end of life is as comfortable as possible.

Tuesday, April 16, is National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), hosted by a nonprofit health care education organization. NHDD gives families the opportunity to share their wishes for the type and amount of care they want if they’re unable to make decisions or voice those decisions.

While many families shy away from discussing death, experts say making your expectations clear can help prevent confusion and anger during the end of a loved one’s life.

You’re doing your family a favor by laying out your wishes,” said Roxxi Davis, director of social services for Passages Hospice. “It takes the burden of making the decision off of them.”

Legal documents called “advance directives,” along with a list of surgeries you’ve had, medications you’re taking and a health history of your family, will help ensure your wishes are honored.

Living will

A living will explains the type of care you want if you have a life-threatening illness or injury. A living will includes decisions about receiving CPR, medicine or a feeding tube.

The living will won’t take effect until a doctor declares the illness or injury is incurable and irreversible, and that you’re unable to make your own medical decisions. For example, if you’re generally healthy but have a heart attack, you may want life-saving treatments like CPR. Alternatively, if you are in a car accident and doctors think you will always be in a coma, you may not want a breathing or feeding tube.

Do not resuscitate order

Often called a DNR, a do not resuscitate order means you do not want CPR or defibrillation performed if your heart stops. If you choose not to sign a DNR, you are considered a “full code,” and medical staff will take lifesaving measures to try to save your life.

Health care power of attorney

A health care power of attorney (POA) places decision-making power in the hands of someone else, and goes into effect as soon as it is signed. This person can help you make decisions while you’re still living and in good mental health, or make decisions for you if you’re unable. Many older people choose a younger family member as their health care POA, so that person has access to their medical records and can be a part of their decision-making process.

More information and free, downloadable copies of these documents can be found at For help completing these documents, call Passages Hospice at 888-741-8983.

For more about National Healthcare Decision Day, visit

Posted April 10, 2013

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