Like having a root canal, discussing death is one of those things many would rather put off until absolutely necessary.
But many health care officials say it’s a conversation more people should have with their loved ones. Specifically, how an individual wishes to be treated in the case of an incurable condition caused by disease, illness or injury.
“From a health care perspective, the more clear a patient’s wishes are, the easier it is to carry them out,” said Karen Posea, Northeast Georgia Medical Center director of medical and surgical services. “Conflicts arise when patients don’t have a (document stating their wishes). We want them to designate not only what they want done, but to also designate someone that is educated about their choices, who can speak to what their wishes are.”
Prior to 2007, living wills and durable power of attorney documents were the statement of choice in Georgia when it came to patients declaring whether they would like their life prolonged should they become permanently or terminally unconscious.
But today, the document of choice is the Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care. This form allows patients to state in advance who can make medical decisions on their behalf, who can act as their guardian should one be necessary and what their preferred treatment preferences are.
“If a patient has given authority to someone to make decisions on their behalf, that is the person (we would defer to),” Posea said.
According to the Georgia Department of Health and Human Services, living wills and power of attorney documents created after June 30, 2007, are no longer valid.
For advance directives to be applicable, two physicians must certify in writing that a patient is in an irreversible state of unconsciousness or other similar condition.
Among other things, the document allows a patient to state if they wish to have organs donated or to have their life prolonged by medications, medical procedures or equipment.
Once the document has been completed, individuals should keep a copy with their other important documents and also give copies to family members and their physician. If a patient is being admitted into the hospital, state health officials suggest the individual brings a copy of their advance directives with them.