Advance Directives Important At Any Age

No one wants to think about the end of their life, but health officials say now, when you're healthy, is the exact time you need to do it.

Advance directives can make your voice be heard when you're unable to speak for yourself. Anne Kindling, risk management manager for Stormont-Vail HealthCare in Topeka, says people of all ages should have them, not just those who are elderly.

Kindling says advance directives include two main documents - a living will and a durable power of attorney.

A living will kicks in when two physicians certify a condition is terminal, with no reasonable chance of recovery and interventions would only prolong the dying process. Kindling says it's a way for a patient to say ahead of time what interventions they'd like to have made.

Kindling says Kansas statute provides for a form that simply indicates whether or not a person would like such interventions withheld, but many people include a second page for additional instructions. Kindling says that might include what quality of life issues are important, what types of surgical options a patient might wish to explore and to what extent a person might consent to use of a ventilator.

Durable power of attorney is a document designating a person to make health care decisions for you when you are not able to do so yourself. Kindling says the designation allows this person to make whatever decision is necessary for you. However, she says, the person cannot override decisions set out in a living will, which makes the two documents together necessary.

Kindling says the forms do not have to be formal. For example, she says Stormont-Vail has suggested forms available for patients to fill in on their web site. Whatever document is created, Kindling said it should be notorized or signed by two individuals who are not related and not responsible for the care of the patient.

Of course, the documents don't do much good if no one knows about them. Kindling suggests providing copies to your doctor and hospital, putting them in your vehicle glove box or near your medications, and perhaps carry a notice of the documents in your wallet.

Above all, don't let what's on those documents be a surprise to your loved ones. Kindling says it is a favor to them to have these conversations and talk about your wishes.

Kingling says it's important to note living wills may not apply in all situations. Like the Texas case that recently gained national attention, Kansas law also states you may not remove life support from a woman who is pregnant.

An additional form Kindling suggests for parents is a "Parental Authorization for Medical Treatment." This authorizes a care giver, such as a day care provider, school official or relative caring for a child while you're out of town, to give permission for medical treatment of your child when you are not readily available.