Whether you’re 18 or 70, deciding how you want to be treated in the case of a devastating injury, terminal illness or failing health is one of the most difficult tasks you will confront and one of the first to be put off for “later.”
But a local group, the Community Health Action Coalition, is leading the charge to help more area residents complete Advanced Care Directives. Representatives of the group – along with a notary and lawyer to assist with paperwork – will present at the Caregiver Conference on Tuesday.
“It’s a responsible thing to do,” said Eve Presler, who filled out her paperwork in early April. “As a social worker, I spend every day helping others do this, and now, I’m doing it for my family because this takes the responsibility for any decision-making off of them. It spares them the anguish of these details or guilt from making this kind of decision.”
Presler, who is in her 40s, had a wake-up call over the Christmas holidays.
“My mom and I were in an active shooter situation in Fort Lauderdale (Florida), and it was life-changing,” she said. “I thought, ‘I might be dead today.’”
Tracy Davis, who has trained as a personal resource specialist through the health coalition, helped Presler, who has also undergone the training, work through a Living Will, Durable Medical Power of Attorney and CPR Directive.
“A lot of people think this is for people in their 70s or 80s, but everyone over 18 should do this,” Davis said. “These documents were inspired by the cases of Terry Schiavo and Karen Ann Quinlan, two women in their 20s who were in a persistent vegetative state for years.”
Presler and Davis, who is also a social worker, said they had each helped hundreds of seniors complete Advanced Care Directives, but they have found that just leaving the paperwork means it doesn’t get completed.
“There’s something about putting it in writing that bothers people,” Davis said. “I had to sit with them and do it. I realized I needed to do this one on one or with a couple or family. If nothing else, people should complete the Durable Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will.”
Davis had other advice.
“The person named to make decisions should know they have been selected and have a copy of the documents,” she said. “And it’s good to update the forms as life conditions change. You may want resuscitation in your 40s, but not in your 80s.”
Another document the women recommend is Five Wishes, which includes information about how individuals want to be treated as they are dying and how they want to be remembered after they are gone.
“As I’m doing this, I’m deeply appreciative of asking people to join me in the decision-making process,” Presler said. “I get how difficult it is to do this. But it’s also good to have this done.”