National Healthcare Decisions Day, a day devoted to educating the public about the importance of advance care planning, is Thursday, April 16. The Vermont Ethics Network, in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders from across the state, always stress that there is no better time than the present to begin your advance care planning journey. These days, however, documenting your wishes has taken on even greater importance.
These are stressful and uncertain times. While we can’t control what will happen if we become sick with COVID-19, we can control who will make decisions for us and ensure that our health care providers know what matters most if we do become ill. There can be peace of mind in knowing you have a plan. Cindy Bruzzese, Clinical Ethicist and Executive Director of the Vermont Ethics Network, shares some tips for navigating advance care planning in the age of COVID-19:
“The time to think about advance care planning is when you are healthy and before a medical emergency or health crisis happens. Get talking and have conversations about your hopes and fears for the future. Share what you want your doctor to know so that they are better able to provide care that aligns with your personal goals and health priorities. While you’re at it, review your old documents and make sure they still reflect what is important to you.”
Some questions to help guide your discussions are:
- Who should your doctors speak with if you are unable to speak for yourself?
- What would be most important to you if your recovery would not include a return of health as you knew it?
- Are there situations you would like to avoid?
- What does a good day look like?
The best quality health care includes making choices centered on your goals and values, and advance care planning documents can help.
With social distancing in place, signing and witnessing advance directive documents, such as the appointment of a health care agent or advance directive forms, in accordance with Vermont’s law can be a challenge. Even with these limitations, your wishes still matter. While you may not be able to sign and witness a document in accordance with the “letter of the law”, what you write down is still in keeping with the “spirit of the law” and your right to be self-determining. Ethical obligations exist regardless of the legality of the document. Documents created right now, while we are all doing the best we can, still carry “moral weight” and would be considered in decision-making.
We invite all Vermont residents to capitalize on this crucial time to have conversations and make their health care preferences known. For information including free downloadable advance directive forms visit VTEthicsNetwork.org or call 802-828-6558.