For patients experiencing a medical crisis or nearing the end of life, a medical directive allows them to voice their health care decisions even after they have become unable to do so themselves.
Trinity Health Chaplains reminded the public that over the holidays when families gather, it can be a time to discuss your medical wishes with your family.
"We'd like to see everyone have one (medical directive) that comes into the hospital, in advance of a crisis or emergency," said Brian Krebs, chaplain with Trinity Health. "We want to try to get people to think about their own health care."
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Brian Krebs, left, and Jessica Zolondek, chaplains for Trinity Health, review information on advance health care planning.
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Brian Krebs, left, and Jessica Zolondek, chaplains for Trinity Health, discuss the importance of having a medical directive in place.
"If the patient has specific values or issues they want to address, a directive also deals with those morality issues," he said. "We want the best of care for the patient, and to respect their individual values."
A directive can also ease the burden on families during a difficult time.
"We like to emphasize the positive aspect of doing advance planning," said Jessica Zolondek, chaplain with Trinity Health. "It eases family tensions and gives families a sense of peace to know that they did what their family member wanted."
Medical directives, often called an advance medical directive, living will or power of attorney for health care, is a written declaration that contains three components, Zolondek explained. In the directive, a patient can appoint a health care agent who will make their care decisions for them if they become incapacitated, state end-of-life nutrition and hydration choices, and state their decision on making an anatomical gift or organ donation.
When patients choose a health care agent, the agent will make health care decisions in the patient's best interests after the patient is unable to speak for themselves. The agent can't be someone employed by the patient's health care provider unless that person is a family member to the patient, and it also can't be someone entitled to the patient's estate after their death.
"Health care staff will come to the agent to discuss decisions, and it's their responsibility to make sure the patient's wishes are followed," Krebs said. "The person should be informed, competent and over 18. It can be a family member or a friend."
In making a directive, patients can discuss their own values when it comes to prolonging life through artificial means, settling the concern for their family members.
"It (a medical directive) can help people stay in keeping with their moral and spiritual values, or even develop them, if they haven't thought about them before," Zolondek said. "It helps ensure dying with dignity."
Medical directives can be a planning and discussion tool to help people make decisions about their wishes on their health care, and Trinity Health chaplains encourage everyone over age 18 to have a directive in place.