The urgency of advance planning during the pandemic

COVID-19 not only affects the elderly and infirm, but also the young and healthy.  The disease is insidious and strikes without warning and knows no barriers.

Patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia can struggle to breathe and deteriorate very rapidly. Medical decisions regarding intubation, resuscitation and basic care often need to be made quickly. Isolation measures make bedside communication all but impossible.

When patients – our loved ones – are too sick to respond, who will advocate on their behalf?  Every one of us needs to take a moment and ensure that we empower those we trust with advance directives so that they can speak on our behalf, if we are unable to do so.

What are advance directives?

Health Care Proxy

If you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself, the person you appoint as your Health Care Proxy will make those decisions on your behalf based on your wishes and values. Communicating your values and beliefs with your Health Care Proxy helps to empower them to make the best decisions for you during the most difficult times.

Living Will

An advance directive, also known as a Living Will, is a legal document in which you state your wishes regarding end-of-life medical care in case you are no longer able to make decisions or communicate your wishes. (Note: This is different from your Last Will and Testament, which is used to distribute your assets upon your death.)

Consider the following questions:

  • Do you prioritize living longer with a breathing tube that could be uncomfortable, or do you prioritize comfort, even if it means potentially having a shorter life?
  • Are there any kinds of medical interventions that you want or don’t want (i.e. CPR, ventilator, artificial nutrition)?

Durable Power of Attorney

The Durable Power of Attorney gives your Agent broad powers to handle matters pertaining to financial affairs, during your lifetime, in the event you are unavailable or unable to do so. This financial authority survives any future disability or incompetency.

These preferences are not set in stone and can be revised if circumstances change. You will continue to make your own medical and financial decisions as long as you can communicate.

The bottom line

In this crisis, where patients are sick, distressed, and isolated, knowing what interventions a loved one would want and making these clear is critical.

So, continue washing your hands, practice social distance, and get your affairs in order now.

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