What would happen if you became suddenly ill or had an accident that left you unable to make your own health care decisions? Who would speak for you? What if the doctors are telling your loved ones that you are not expected to recover the ability to know who you are or where you are? Who knows you well enough to make difficult health care decisions on your behalf?
We don't like thinking about these possibilities, but making our wishes known while we are still healthy is important. We carefully plan for important life events, like births and weddings, but most of us find it difficult to talk about, much less plan for, end-of-life care.
We rarely discuss our goals, values and beliefs about the kind of health care we would want if we could not speak for ourselves.
Accidents and illness can happen at any age. Three nationally known cases of young women -- Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan and Terri Schiavo -- left families agonizing over decisions because they did not have clear instructions.
The Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement is sponsoring a county-wide initiative aimed at normalizing conversations around end-of-life care and increasing the number of adults in Whatcom County who have well-written advanced care directives.
If illness or incapacity ever prevents you from making end-of-life decisions, an advanced care directive helps and protects you by telling health care providers what actions to take. Participating in the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement's end-of-life choices workshop helps you create your directive and helps you know how to talk with your family and loved ones about what choices you want them to make on your behalf.
Part of the process includes selecting your health care agent - the person you want to make health care decisions for you if you cannot speak for yourself. You will also choose and document the end-of-life care that you want - and the care that you don't.
Legal documents alone, however, are not enough. Conversations with your loved ones and health care providers significantly improve the quality of the paperwork and increase the likelihood that your wishes will be honored.
Our goals for care will change as our health changes or as we age, so reviewing and revising your legal documents and having discussions with your loved ones about what "quality of life" means to you will enhance understanding.
Letting your family and loved ones know your wishes in advance reduces their burden.
If accident or illness prevents you from speaking for yourself, health care providers turn to family members to decide what actions to take.
People who attend our free workshops say they are motivated to do this because they want to choose who will speak for them and the care they would prefer, they want control over how they die, they don't want to burden their loved ones, they want to make sure medical professionals honor their wishes, they don't want their life savings to go to ineffective health care, they want their children to be better equipped to speak for them than they were for their parents. They are happy to cross this off their "to do" list.
What will motivate you to have these important conversations?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julianne Dickelman is project manager of the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement End of Life Choices Advance Care Planning Initiative. For more information about free community workshops, scheduling an appointment and other resources, see whatcomalliance.org/end-of-life-care, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-788-6526.
The next seminar is 2:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at Parkway Chateau. 2818 Old Fairhaven Parkway. Others will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, at Spring Creek Retirement and Assisted Living, 223 E. Bakerview Road; 5 to 6:30 p.m., Monday, June 10, at the Deming Public Library, 5044 Mount Baker Highway; 4 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, St. Luke's Health Education Center, 3333 Squalicum Parkway; and 6:30 to 8 p.m Wednesday, June 12, at Spring Creek Spring Creek.
Drop in hours are 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, at the alliance office at 800 E. Chestnut St. and 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 25 at the Ferndale Public Library, 2007 Cherry St.