“Of all mindful meditations, the one on death is supreme.” – Buddha
Advance Care Planning
What will happen to you if you lose capacity to communicate for yourself, temporarily or permanently? Of if you face an emergency life and death situation, or a terminal illness, who will speak for you? Who will be your advocate and what do you want your advocate to know when making medical decisions on your behalf? If you die, what do you want to be done with your body? Do you want to allow an autopsy to be performed? Do you want to donate your organs or donate your body for medical research? Do you want to be buried or cremated?
The process of answering these questions is called Advance Care Planning, and it is your best chance of ensuring that your wishes are known and will be respected when you cannot communicate for yourself. Studies have shown that people who document their healthcare wishes and decision-making have the highest chance of getting the specific care they want when the time comes. Also, please do not assume that this is something that only elderly people need to do. All three landmark cases which have shaped our end of life rights in this country revolve around young women in their twenties. Everyone over the age of 18 should begin to consider Advance Care Planning.
Advance Care Planning is a personal process that involves understanding, reflection, discussion, and communication. Working through the process will help you understand your own goals and wishes and help you to document them in a way which is reflective of your personal values and wishes. Documenting your plan using statutory, legally-binding forms requires others acting on your behalf to abide by your stated plan, and to make the decision which you would make for yourself.
Advance Care Planning has multiple benefits. It provides you with clarity in terms of what you want for yourself under various circumstances and empowers you to make decisions for yourself which reflect your personal values and wishes. Also, stating and documenting your wishes provides your loved ones and your healthcare team with your counsel and guidance in making decisions for you when you cannot speak for yourself.
However, it is not an easy task, and it is not a one-time task. Advance Care Planning begins with a conversation with your loved ones and your healthcare professionals about death and dying, and about your specific beliefs and values regarding your own death. The decisions that must be made during the course of this planning are difficult and should not be made in isolation. It may be difficult at first, but with practice and time, it will become easier. Advance Care Planning is the process of having these tough conversations, and continuing the conversations throughout your lifetime as major life events come and go.