Stress blog

Advance directives: A gift to your loved ones

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. August 21, 2010

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A recurrent and important theme in the blog comments over the past few weeks has been the issue of end-of-life decisions and quality of life.

One of the greatest gifts that you can give your family and yourself is a living will or advance directives to document your wishes related to end-of-life care. Advance directives guide your care in two ways:

  • Naming a proxy — a person who can speak for you if you can't speak for yourself. This representative, who might be a spouse or partner, or another designated family member or friend, has the legal authority to act on our behalf in health care matters.
  • Spelling out what care you want — and don't want — if you have an irreversible, life-threatening condition.

It was recently brought home to me just how important advance directives can be. While on hospital assignment, I saw a gentleman who was a professional basketball referee. While working in a summer league, he'd had a massive hemorrhage into his brain and lapsed into a coma. There was no reasonable probability of improvement in his condition, so I was asked to talk with the family concerning end-of-life and comfort measures. Around the patient's bedside were his wife and two devoted adult sons. Each was painfully conflicted as to how aggressive to be to sustain their loved one's life.

When I visited with the family the next day, they shared a document they'd found in their father's desk at home. He'd clearly written out in his own hand that he did not want any artificial hydration, nutrition, or breathing or kidney machines if there was no likelihood of improvement. This document provided tremendous relief for the family, since they now knew how to act in accordance with their loved one's wishes.

Please take time to document your wishes today. No one knows what tomorrow may bring.


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

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12 Comments Posted

Aug. 21, 2010