Saturday, April 16, 2016, is National Healthcare Decisions Day, a nationwide initiative to educate and empower the American public to make and communicate decisions about their future healthcare needs. Marked by events at healthcare facilities and public venues across the United States, NHDD’s theme for 2016 is “It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late.”
Founded in 2008 by Nathan Kottkamp of the Virginia law firm McGuireWoods LLP, NHDD’s goal is to “demystify healthcare decision-making” and make the process of advance care planning simple and accessible to all. Kottkamp started the organization as a young man, after creating his own advance directive when he was just 20 years old. “I now know that I was an outlier to have created an advance directive when I was so young, but the fact is we all should discuss and document our healthcare wishes, regardless of our age,” Kottkamp says. “Indeed, the three most famous cases regarding health care decision-making involved women in their twenties: Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan, and Terri Schiavo,” he adds.
What Is Advance Care Planning?
Advance care planning, or an advance directive, has two main components:
- A “healthcare power of attorney,” which designates the person you select to make decisions about your care if you are unable to speak for yourself.
- A “living will”, which specifies what treatments you do and do not want if you are terminally ill or at the end of life. Additionally, Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment, or POLST, outline specific instructions regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation, medical treatments, and artificial hydration and nutrition for people approaching the end of life.
Although most people in the United States agree that advance planning is important, fewer than 30 percent of Americans have had the necessary conversations and created the documents they need.
Having the Conversation
Talking about death and dying is difficult for people in our culture, surrounded as we are by social taboos around illness, aging and death. Yet when we avoid these conversations we deprive our loved ones of essential information about what we value and how we wish to be cared for if we become seriously ill and cannot communicate our needs.
National Healthcare Decisions Day provides a framework for having those conversations in a loving, open and honest way. The website provides a wealth of information about how to create an advance directive, where to find forms, state-specific resources and guidance in talking about death. One of these, The Conversation Project, will actually help you plan a dinner and open a dialogue with family and friends. Just go to their website and pick a date between April 16th and April 22nd and follow the prompts to get all the tools you need.