Talking about Advance Directives

  • By:  Donna Marchant-Roof

As women, we talk about everything. What’s the best restaurant in town? Who gives the best manicure? What’s the name of that hairdresser you didn’t like? Despite our gift of gab, one topic is conspicuously absent from our conversations—end-of-life preparations. 

Talking about situations in which you, your parents, or your adult child isn’t able to make decisions is scary, but if something were to happen to you, wouldn’t you feel better knowing your wishes were carried out as specifically instructed? It’s definitely a topic worth your attention and effort.

After witnessing many instances in which family members were left to make personal, life-altering decisions for their incapacitated loved ones, four local hospital systems—Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, Bon Secours Health System, Riverside Health System, and Sentara Healthcare—joined forces to form the Advance Care Planning Coalition of Eastern Virginia. Recently the coalition launched the “As You Wish Virginia” campaign to provide a comprehensive resource on end-of-life planning.

One way you and your family can start this process is through an advance directive. An advance directive is a legal document that allows you to name a health care agent and outline your instructions for medical treatments. This form is available at no cost from any hospital and also downloadable from asyouwishvirginia.org. It only takes a few minutes to complete, and even if you do not know your medical wishes at this time, you can still provide general guidelines about your care preferences. You do not need an attorney to complete the form. However, if you have more complicated medical needs, you may want to consult with your physician, an attorney, and/or other health care provider. 

Taking the time to fill out your advance directive is not only a gift to yourself, but a gift to your family. If something were to happen to you and you couldn’t make your own medical decisions, they would be left to make those choices—choices that may impact your quality of life and cause them significant emotional stress. Providing your family with as much direction as you can will make an extremely difficult situation just a bit easier. And while having a discussion about your wishes is a great start, writing them down makes it legal.

Maybe you think you’re too young to put your medical care wishes in writing. Nothing is going to happen to you any time soon, right? But what if something did happen to you or a loved one tomorrow? An advance directive would ensure that your medical decisions were implemented. 

An advance directive can also address other care situations, such as chronic disease issues, psychiatric issues, or your directions for admission into certain types of health care facilities. So it’s not just about your preferences at the end, it’s also about the care you want to receive in many different situations. 

Have I persuaded you to have this conversation yet? I hope so. It may not be as easy as talking about your recent vacation or the neighbor’s new car, but it is an important one. If you’re looking for some tips on talking to your loved ones about this delicate topic, www.asyouwishvirginia.org is a great resource for frequently asked questions and tips on bringing up the subject with your family. 

If I’ve convinced you to have this conversation with family members, but you’re not planning to fill out an advance care directive for yourself, go back and read this article again. Your wishes are important. As women, we often put others before ourselves, but it’s time to take care of yourself and lead by example for your loved ones. Your future self and family will appreciate it. 

Donna Marchant-Roof is the senior service line administrator and director of home health, hospice, and palliative care at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center. She currently serves as the 2015 chair of the Advance Care Planning Coalition of Eastern Virginia. For more information on advance care planning in Virginia, including a list of frequently asked questions, visit www.asyouwishvirginia.org. 

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