− Having “advanced directives” in place ensures these wishes are respected −
MIAMI – April 21, 2014 – Imagine after a tragic car accident, a 40-year-old mother of two left in a vegetative state, clinging to life support. Or an 85-year-old grandfather suffers a terrible stroke and is languishing on a ventilator. And now, to make matters worse, the families in both examples have no idea what to do next because – like the majority of Americans – they never discussed an advanced directive with their loved ones.
“This is a big concern,” says Brian J. Kiedrowski, M.D., Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Miami Jewish Health Systems, one of the largest healthcare providers for seniors in the southeast. “Unfortunately, I often counsel distressed family members who don’t know what to do next when their loves ones become incapacitated and can no longer speak for themselves, because their wishes were never communicated.”
Miami Jewish Health Systems recently conducted a Harris Poll and found that nearly three out of five adult Americans surveyed – 59% − said their loved ones do not have an advanced directive in place, or are not sure if they do. This number grows higher – to a staggering 67% – when looking at responses from adults with children in the house about having advanced directives in place.
Dr. Kiedrowski said he is not surprised by any of the results: “It’s a topic that gets spoken about late in the process, or not at all. There’s a feeling ‘oh, they’ll know what I want to do in this situation.’ But without an advanced directive, family members don’t always know what to do. This adds tremendous pressure to an already difficult situation.”
Dr. Kiedrowski makes it a point to advise all of his patients at Miami Jewish Health Systems, and their family members to set up an advanced directive now, before they actually need it. He often refers patients to Aging with Dignity, a non-profit organization that has a simple living will on its website that meets the legal requirements for an advance directive in 42 states, including Florida. It’s called Five Wishes and lets family and doctors know the following:
- Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them.
- The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want.
- How comfortable you want to be.
- How you want people to treat you.
- What you want your loved ones to know.
Dr. Kiedrowski also likes to point out that an advance directive can be changed and modified at any time.
“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” he says. “Often, I recommend a time-limited trial of care to allow for certain interventions or therapies a chance to work. And just as important as it is to put advanced directives in writing, the person you choose as a surrogate is also very important. Someone too close to you may not be the best choice because they may not be able to carry through on the decisions you want.”
Miami Jewish Health Systems is spearheading efforts to inform more people about the need for an advanced directive. Additional information about advanced directives is available at www.miamijewishhealth.org.