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Your wishes, your voice: The power of advance care planning

What if you experienced a sudden accident or illness that prevented you from making your own medical decisions? Would your family or loved ones know what kind of care you want or don’t want?

An advance directive is a legal document that allows you to state your wishes for medical care in the event you become unable to speak for yourself. This can include decisions about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), life support and other life-sustaining treatments. By having an advance directive, you can help ensure your wishes are followed and that your loved ones and healthcare providers know what you would want.

In Washington (and many other states), the advance directive also enables you to assign someone to act as your healthcare durable power of attorney. This is a person you trust to make healthcare decisions for you when you are unable to communicate or make decisions for yourself. Often people don’t consider filling out an advance directive until they are of a very advanced age or facing a significant medical diagnosis. However, we highly recommend every adult complete this form. Anyone who is at least 18 years old can and should have an advance directive.

Some people are reluctant to complete an advance directive because they are unsure about some of the choices, or they worry, “What if I change my mind?”

The advance directive can be updated as frequently as you desire. We recommend people review their advance directive at least every ten years, any time they experience a significant life change (e.g., a loved one’s death, a significant move or divorce), or if they have received a new life-limiting diagnosis.

Sometimes as we age, have more life experiences or watch loved ones endure tough situations, we may reassess our feelings about things like CPR or life support. This is completely natural. Advanced directives do not lock you into any decisions.

People of an advanced age, who have a serious illness or who possess a very strong opinion about not undergoing CPR should also consider completing a Portable Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form. The advance directive is really only valid inside a hospital or other healthcare facility. Having a POLST signed by your healthcare provider helps ensure emergency medical service (EMS) providers can follow your wishes should you need help at home or in a public place.

Since we never really know when one of these moments may arise, it’s best to get started on your advance directives now to make sure your voice is heard.