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Advance Care Planning

Advance Care Planning is critically important if you are diagnosed with a health problem that will impact your ability to make health care and end of life care decisions for yourself.  However, even if you're perfectly healthy, you should have an advance care directive to make sure people know your wishes if you can no longer make a decision for yourself. 

When someone needs medical care, they have the right to make choices about that care.  Advance Directives are instructions about the healthcare you want if a time comes when you are unable to make your health care wishes known.

A person can protect their right to choose by making decisions ahead of time about the medical care they may want in the future.  This is called giving an advance directive.  There are two common types of advance directives: a Power of Attorney for Health Care or Living Will.  A person may write their own advance directive or use the Maine Health Care Advance Directive Form which is available from health care providers, the Office of Aging and Disability Services, Legal Services for the Elderly and the Area Agencies on Aging.  Forms can be found at www.maine.gov/dhhs/oads/aging/resource/adf.pdf or downloaded from www.mainelse.org.  Instructions are included in the packet regarding with whom to share the directives.

Some things to consider when planning for choosing your own medical treatment

Plan for when you may not be able to choose your own medical treatment. This planning should be comprehensive and ongoing. It needs to include your family and friends as well as your health care representative and providers. Planning should reflect your personal values and beliefs. It needs to be flexible if conditions change. 

Consider the following:

  • Communication — Make this the first step. It is critical to think through what you want and your options and discuss them with your family and others. This can be difficult and emotional. However, communicating your wishes ahead of time decreases your family’s burden and the chance of future conflict.
  • Values and beliefs — Consider your concerns, values, spiritual beliefs or views.
  • Preferences — Most people have ideas about how they wish to face death and/or disability. However, they may be uncomfortable discussing them. It can help to talk to someone you trust about your ideas or ask about their experiences.
  • Health care representative — Decide who you will appoint as your health care representative/decision maker. Select someone you believe respects your values, beliefs and wishes about care. He or she should be able to carry out your wishes, even if they include denying treatment to keep you alive.
  • Help with planning — Various professionals can help you create an advance directive. Examples include lawyers, social workers and members of the clergy. Some counselors and social workers, especially those in hospice services, are uniquely qualified to help.