In Case of Emergency, Medical Decisions Can’t Wait

ER- Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit. June 2017.

“A man’s mind will very gradually refuse to make itself up until it is driven and compelled by emergency.” -Anthony Trollope

After returning from a much needed, weeklong, pure leisurely vacation, the last place I expected to visit was the emergency room. The only time I had ever been to the ER was just over four years ago, when I lost my father. A young woman, on the verge of 30, with no serious medical history and an active mother to a very energetic 4 year old sounds like the picture of good health. Yet, this description did not shield me from medical emergency, as I found myself being treated in the ER for chest pains. Needless to say, medical emergencies are not reserved for the sick, disabled, and aged, as commonly believed, although the need can increase in each of those categories. However, this begs the question, in case of emergency, are your medical decisions in order?

Before answering that question, we must first understand what advanced directives are and the differences amongst them. An advance directive is a written document in which you specify the type of medical care you want or who you want to make decisions for you, should you lose the ability to make decisions for yourself. In Michigan, there are three types: a durable power of attorney for healthcare, living will, and do-not-resuscitate order.

A durable power of attorney for healthcare authorizes an individual to act on a patient’s behalf in regards to care, custody, and medical treatment when the patient receiving such services is unable to make decisions for him or herself. This is commonly referred to as a patient advocate, which is the individual granted the power to act on behalf of the patient. A living will is a document that instructs physicians and others to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining procedures and equipment in the face of certain death, such as terminal illness. The living will provides useful guidance to family, friends, physicians, and hospitals, but its legal effect in Michigan is uncertain. Finally, a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR), is a document directing that no resuscitation will be initiated if a patient’s heart stops beating and he or she stops breathing outside of a hospital. In order to execute this document, the individual must be a person who is at least age 18 and of sound mind, or a patient advocate of an individual who is at least age 18.

Now, returning to the question of whether your medical decisions are in order, they likely are not, as according to a January 2014 study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, only 26.3% of U.S. adults had an advanced directive. Notably,  the most common reason for not having an advanced directive was lack of awareness. While patient advocate services are available at many hospitals, based on the study, the majority of adults are unaware of their availability or of what they are. Additionally, executing a patient advocate designation at the hospital can lead to quick, on the spot thinking, rather than taking the time to fully consider what is best for you and whom is best to make those choices for you.

Therefore, when deciding what choices are best in regards to your medical care, consider the following questions: whom can you trust to carry out decisions on your behalf in the event of your disability or incapacity? Is this person a responsible and dependable individual? Will this individual be willing to accept? Think about who you can trust to carry out your wishes, talk it to such individuals, and close family and friends, so that your decisions are known. Decide what method is best for you, and disclose the location of pertinent documents, which you can even register free through Gift of Life Michigan.

Furthermore, should you find yourself unable to make your own medical decisions, instead of planning ahead, would you rather leave the choice to your family with no plan, setting the stage for disagreement and argument? Your family, who is already grieving at your condition, will be left with the burden of deciding how to treat you further, or whether to even continue treatment at all. It is a monumental decision, and can bring about stress and ruin relationships in the family. However, with a medical directive, you can lessen the burden, and be prepared in case of emergency.

“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” -Euripides. No matter the situation, it is always best to plan ahead. Contact TMP Law to secure your plan in place today.