Our family’s Thanksgiving tradition has nothing to do with food or football, but has everything to do with our personal beliefs, values and expectations.
It’s an annual family discussion of issues related to Advance Care Planning, and it’s a tradition I encourage all families to adopt.
Advance Care Planning involves completing the necessary legal forms to document your health care preferences at end-of-life, and legally designating someone to represent you during a medical crisis if you can’t speak for yourself. The basic legal forms are a Health Care Proxy and New York Living Will.
Years ago, my family started this tradition on Thanksgiving, because it’s an American holiday that just about everyone celebrates, and it brings together family members from far and wide. At first, you might think it’s morbid to discuss such topics at a fun holiday gathering, but we’ve found that it brings us closer together. We each gain peace of mind from knowing that our own wishes have been expressed and will be honored, and from hearing how our loved ones want to be treated if ever they need someone to make health care decisions on their behalf. It’s yet another reason to give thanks.
After our Thanksgiving meal, and after the dishes are cleared, the adults in our family remain at the table and review our individual Advance Care Planning documents to make sure they reflect our current feelings. We have blank forms on hand in case new documents need to be completed and witnessed.
As a medical doctor and health plan administrator with a specialty in pain management and end-of-life issues, I am passionate about Advance Care Planning. I recommend that everyone 18 years and older completes the legally recognized Advance Care Planning forms and keeps copies on file with their physicians, lawyer and loved ones.
In addition to the Health Care Proxy and New York Living Will, there’s a document called Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST), and an electronic version called eMOLST. MOLST is recommended for people with serious or advancing chronic illness, and for those who want to further define their wishes for medical interventions, including resuscitation. The MOLST form is legally approved for use in hospitals and nursing homes across New York state.
I encourage your family to adopt our Thanksgiving tradition. Discussing and documenting each family member’s thoughts and views on this subject will save heartache and family turmoil in the future. Download a free step-by-step booklet and discussion guide on Advance Care Planning, as well as blank forms for the New York Living Will, Health Care Proxy and MOLST at compassionandsupport.org.
Patricia Bomba, M.D., is vice president and medical director/geriatrics for Univera Healthcare. She served on the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Transforming End-of-Life Care