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Nothing Shall Be Impossible

Doc Talk: Do I need a health care advance directive?

Tuesday, April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day, dedicated to encouraging people to complete health care advance directives, better known as a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care.

This annual event, one day after Tax Day, takes advantage of the link between death and taxes, those inevitable facts of life. 

Most Americans superstitiously avoid the subject of death, as if talking about dying will make it come true.We assume that there will be a better and easier time to talk about death later.

However, this “head in the sand” approach leaves our families and health care workers in
the dark concerning our values and wishes, when, inevitably, due to illness or incapacity, we become unable to make our choices known. As the palliative care medical director at
Middle Tennessee Medical Center, I come across these instances far too often. It is much easier and less emotional to have these discussions before serious illness or catastrophic
circumstances make difficult decisions necessary.

Whether we like it or not most of us will come to a point in our lives when we cannot speak for ourselves. Someone will then speak for us. That someone will most likely be related to
us by marriage or blood. If we want to help those people, we can first, give them clear authority to speak for us, (durable power of attorney for healthcare), and second, tell them what treatments we would and would not want (living will) when our lives are threatened.

Advance directives are most useful when they are based on conversations within families. When someone becomes ill or is seriously injured, an advance directive can prevent family
conflict over treatment options. Family members are then better able to support one another and attend to the difficult tasks of caring, giving and grieving.

So this week is a good opportunity to have family discussions and complete your own advance directive. You can download an advance directive form from the National Healthcare Decisions Day website (http://www.nhdd.org/) or from the Tennessee Department of Health website (health.state.tn.us), where you will also find additional information about advance directives.

Dr. James Nunnery is medical director of palliative medicine at Middle Tennessee Medical Center.

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