Advance Directives Part 1 – Choosing your decision maker

October 19, 2009 by  
Filed under For Patients & Families


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Most doctors just hand the patient this form and say fill it out. But they don’t help you fill it out or explain what the decisions mean. I am going to help you think through the process of filling out your Advance Directive.

There are two main decisions you need to make when you are filling out your Advance Directive. Who you want to make your decisions for you and what you would want. After I help you with these two questions, I will then tell you what to do with your advance directive after you have filled it out. At the end, I have included instructions on how to find a form that would work in your state.

Let’s first talk about who you would want to make decisions for you. In your state, your form might ask you to list your agent, proxy or surrogate decision maker. (These words all mean the same thing, but each state its own legal term.)

Who should you pick?

1. You should pick someone who is medically literate. What does this mean? The person should be able to understand what the doctor is saying, be able to figure out the medical words and be able to understand the medical choices being offered. If the person you thought you were going to pick would be confused by what the doctor would say, then pick someone else.

2. You should pick someone that knows you very well, would know what you would want in a medical crisis and would tell the doctor what you have told them in the past. The person you have chosen will be asked to listen to the medical information and then use your values to make the medical decisions. The person is not supposed to use his or her own values, but to speak as if they were you. If the person you thought you would pick wouldn’t respect your choices or has very different beliefs from yours, then pick someone else. You want someone who will speak as if he or she is speaking with your voice, not his or her own agenda.

3. You should pick someone that won’t fall apart in a crisis. It doesn’t do you any good if the person is hysterical, can’t function or can’t stand to visit you in the hospital. You need to pick someone brave enough and who will be by your side no matter how difficult things get. If the person you thought you would pick doesn’t handle his or her own life very well, then don’t have him or her be in charge of yours.

4. You should pick someone that will do right by you even if it is the most difficult thing they ever had to do. Sometimes doing the right thing is allowing the person you love to have a peaceful death. And your decision maker needs to be able to live with the difficult decisions he or she has to make. In reality, he or she is making the decisions based on what you would want, not what he or she would want. But that doesn’t make it any easier. You have to be able to talk to this person ahead of time about what you would want in different kinds of situations. So, if the person you thought you would pick is too afraid to talk about death and dying, then he or she isn’t the right person for this job. And if he or she would refuse to follow through with what you have requested, then pick someone else.

5. You can write down whom you don’t want to be your decision maker. Depending on what state you live in, the rules vary regarding who is in charge of you when you are unconscious or incapacitated. You need to protect yourself.

6. Doctors won’t tell you this but you can pick two or three people to share in your medical decision making. But be careful that you pick people who can work together, will support each other and who you know won’t make things worse for the healthcare team. I had one lady tell me that she picked her two sons to make her decisions and that these two men had never agreed on anything. She is setting herself up for a nightmare as good decisions won’t get made and the doctor will hate having to deal with her sons. You don’t want your doctor to hate your decision maker. Please pick carefully.

7. Some people don’t pick their spouse because they know that it would be too much for their loved one to go through and that their spouse couldn’t make these most difficult decisions. If you do pick your spouse, then you need to be extremely careful about picking the alternate decision makers. The alternates will make your decisions if you and your spouse are injured in the same accident. The alternate should be just as qualified as your first choice.

I am available to speak at your organization or hospital.

Have a kind and respectful day.

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