As we get into the new year, we’ve probably heard more than a few conversations about New Year’s resolutions. Many are never followed; others last only a few weeks.
But one resolution can be considered an act of prudence. The prudent person is one who does the good, as opposed to one who merely knows the good. Prudent people are wise enough to plan for the future.
An important decision for each person involves “advanced health care directives.” These consist of two parts: a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care (DPOA). These forms only go into effect when you are unable to communicate your own desires.
A living will outlines your medical and treatment choices. The DPOA is a person you appoint to make medical and treatment decisions when you are no longer able to do so yourself. The DPOA’s role is to make known what you have already decided. Obviously, it is essential that the person you want to fulfill this role (e.g., spouse, son, daughter or trustworthy friend) is someone willing to do this and with whom you have talked about your health care decisions.
This person may be called upon when you are terminally ill and will die soon, or if you suffer an accident or illness that leaves you permanently unable to communicate. Because situations are varied, it is important to be as clear as possible and to make sure your DPOA understands your desires. The decisions you state and describe should all be guided by the teachings of the Church. All hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, require these documents when you go in for surgery or any major procedure.
In our Franciscan Province, all 178 friars have both a living will and a DPOA. Our provincial is named as our durable power of attorney for health care. Whenever a friar goes to the hospital, either in an emergency situation or for surgery, his documents are sent with him. In my friary where 10 of us reside and where all but one friar is in his 70s or 80s, we post our health care directives on the back of our bedroom doors so that, in the case of a squad call, they are easily available.
Can you change your mind once you have completed the forms? Yes. You can change your mind about what you have written and who you choose as your decision maker at any time. You simply need to destroy the old forms and fill out new ones. Make sure the new forms are given to those who need them, such as your decision maker, family, significant others and your attorney.
Some have heard that these documents mean you won’t get treatment. This is a common misconception. These forms do not mean no care. In fact, they specifically spell out what care you want and do not want. You should always get the care and comfort that you require.
What happens if you don’t have these documents? Every state has a hierarchy that determines your next of kin and who will make decisions for you. For instance, in the case of a minor child, it will be the parents. If you are an adult with a legal spouse, that person becomes your decision maker. But it becomes complicated when family members or significant others disagree about what they think your desires are. This is why these forms are so important. They speak for you.
You can get these forms at just about any drug store. I would suggest you stop by your local Catholic hospital to obtain copies for yourself and, if you are married, for your spouse as well. If it seems difficult to talk about these things with family members, imagine being in a situation in which no one knows what you want and each person has his or her own opinion. Better to make your wishes known plainly—and in writing—yourself.
If you have already filled out these forms, congratulations. You have done a most important favor for yourself and your loved ones. If you have not yet done so, it is important that you do so soon. It may be the most important thing you do in all of 2017.