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A serious cycling accident on Gibraltar Road, a freeway collision, a stroke — any of these could take away your ability to communicate, and they can happen at any age.
The Advance Care Directive is a vital legal document that dictates the type of health care you want to receive if you are unable to make healthcare decisions for yourself. The free, user-friendly form identifies your desired health-care agent, someone who understands your wishes and will speak on your behalf when you can no longer do so. If there is no directive, the responsibility would go to your next of kin, which may not be the person ideally suited to making critical medical and end-of-life decisions.
It’s important to note that if you are not legally married to your significant other, he or she cannot weigh in unless you have designated them as your health-care agent on record. If you have chosen to be an organ donor, this should also be included in the directive.
Rebecca Simonitsch, the advance care planning program manager for Cottage Health, says that 90 percent of the work to complete the document are the conversations surrounding the decisions. Research has shown that families who did not have a directive to work from experienced more anxiety and guilt even years after the death of a loved one because they question whether they made the right decisions.
Partly due to the misconception that these directives deal only with old age and death, the Alliance for Living and Dying Well in Santa Barbara has launched a vigorous, multi-agency campaign to educate people, hosting monthly workshops throughout the community. They are recommending the MyCare document for everyone over the age of 18. It is available at mycare.cottagehealth.org as well as through a medical provider and at the Cottage hospitals. You do not have to be a patient at any of these hospitals in order to submit your directive. Other legal advance care directives may be used as well. You may also file your directive with the California Secretary of State’s Advance Health Care Directive Registry.
For those who are already ill, another option is the POLST, or Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. This is a portable medical order signed by a health-care professional that states which treatments a seriously ill or frail patient wants in case of a medical emergency. The bright-pink paper should be placed in a visible location, usually in front of the refrigerator, so that emergency personnel can access it quickly. See polst.org for more information.