Communicating Your Wishes

End-of-Life Planning: Your Advance Directive

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Thinking about the end of life – especially your own – isn’t something most people enjoy. But planning for it is important. Even if you are young and healthy, circumstances can change instantly. Consider how much medical care you want if you are seriously injured or become sick. Then, carefully choose an advocate – a person who will communicate your wishes if you are no longer able. Document your choice of an advocate though an advance directive, which becomes part of your medical record.

Jim Kraft, M.Th., who helps patients with advance care planning and end-of-life decisions at Henry Ford Health System, emphasizes that choosing an advocate and completing an advance directive form is only part of the process: “Too often, a person chooses an advocate who doesn’t truly understand who they are and what makes life meaningful for them.”

An ideal advocate is a person who:

  • Knows you well
  • Is mentally alert
  • Will follow your wishes
  • Is strong enough to enforce your wishes
  • Has time and availability
  • Can be available in a sudden event or emergency

Kraft says even when a patient has chosen an advocate, family members can become divided because they don’t agree on what their loved one would have wanted. Some family members may want more aggressive treatment than the patient requested, and the advocate can face a great deal of guilt and pressure.

“To prevent this, have conversations ahead of time so your advance directive is thorough and clear,” says Kraft. “When the patient has involved their close family members and friends, difficult medical decisions become much easier.”

There is no single path to having conversations with loved ones and creating an advance directive. Kraft offers a few options to get started:

Have a Conversation

Find a trained advance care planning service to help start the conversation, like the free service offered through Henry Ford.

“We’ll help you identify an advocate and, together, have a robust discussion about your goals and create your advance directive. Then, we can bring in other loved ones so you’re all on the same page. While everyone might not agree with your choices, the key is for everyone to agree that they are your choices to make,” says Kraft.

Talk to your Medical Team

“It’s always a good idea to talk to your physician or provider,” says Kraft. “Let them know you are completing an advance directive, ask for their input, and review the completed form with them.” Your provider will enter your advance directive into your medical record.

Complete a Form & Keep it Current

Whether or not you complete the form with the help of your doctor, once you fill out an advance directive form, be sure to review the completed paperwork with your physician before it is entered in your medical record to ensure your wishes are clear to him or her.

As you age or your health status changes, don’t forget to revisit your advance directive. If your advocate’s health status or situation changes and that person is no longer able to speak for you, you will need to appoint a different advocate.

Don’t Wait

Kraft recommends everyone complete an advance directive around age 55 or younger. “You’ll gain peace of mind after thinking through what is important to you and choosing someone you trust whose decisions will be consistent with who you are. You’ll also remove the burden of decision-making from your loved ones and ensure that your passing is in harmony with your wishes.”

Learn more about our Advance Care Planning Service. To arrange a free consultation with a Henry Ford advisor, call (800) 532-2411 or email ACP@hfhs.org. A trained advance care planning advisor will meet with you and your loved ones at a Henry Ford location convenient for you.

Jim Kraft, M.Th., is the director of Advance Care Planning and Collaborative Care at Henry Ford Health System and a chaplain at Henry Ford Macomb and West Bloomfield hospitals. He is a certified Advance Care Planning advisor and leads a team of Henry Ford professionals who are trained and available to assist individuals with Advance Care Planning needs.

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