Every year in April, the Commonwealth of Virginia holds an Annual Healthcare Decisions Day. The purpose of this day is threefold: 1) to raise public awareness of the necessity of planning ahead with regard to health care decisions involving end of life care; 2) to inform the public with regard to the importance of planning for medical decision-making whenever patients are unable to make choices for themselves; and 3) to encourage the use of Advance Directives to transmit these decisions to others.
An advance directive is a document that delineates one’s wishes with regard to medical care in the event he or she is incapable of doing so.
There are two kinds of advance directives:
1) Medical Power of Attorney. In Virginia, one may authorize another to act as an “agent” or “proxy” for the purpose of making his or her medical decisions in the event of incapacity. This document can also specify to your agent which types of medical care you want and do not want.
2) Living Will. A living will states what kinds of healthcare you want or do not want in the event you are unable to do so.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has created a free online advance directive registry at http://www.VirginiaRegistry.org that allows residents of Virginia to upload and store important healthcare documents so that persons you designate (family, medical providers, emergency personnel) will know your wishes. According to the website, these documents are kept confidential and only designated parties are given access.
As with many things in life, planning is key. Advance directives are an easy way to help family and friends make difficult decisions under trying times.