New Year’s resolution: advance directive

Guest post by Dan Morhaim, M.D.

Humans are the only creatures that can contemplate their own demise. They might as well get ready for it. The best way to avoid an unwanted death panel is to set up your own.
–Jay Hancock, “Plan your end-of-life care or others will do it for you,” The Baltimore Sun, December 24, 2011

Is end-of-life care a personal issue, an economic one, a matter of public policy, or a looming public health crisis?

Actually, it’s a bit of all of these, but the first step toward addressing these complex issues is to complete an advance directive, which helps direct medical care when we can’t make decisions for ourselves. We know that only about one-third of Americans have done this, so more of us need to consider our choices and then fill out a short form that is free, legal in every state, and takes only a few minutes to complete.

The challenge is to get the best outcome not only from new medical possibilities, but also from the emotional, spiritual, and psychological wisdom of humanity’s past and present. How we make these decisions depends upon our individual values and our access to information, and how we act leads to empowerment and dignity. This helps us and our families get through an otherwise very difficult time.

I have found that people want very much to talk about their own experiences around end-of-life issues, but don’t know how to get started. Jay Hancock, the widely respected columnist for the business section of The Baltimore Sun, titled his December 24, 2011 column “Plan your end-of-life care or others will do it for you.” In it, he explains how my book The Better End: Surviving (and Dying) on Your Own Terms in Today’s Modern Medical World can help.

Mr. Hancock’s summary: “Read Morhaim’s book and fill out an advance directive for your New Year’s resolution.”

Dan Morhaim, M.D., is an adjunct professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Deputy Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates. He is board certified in emergency medicine and internal medicine. His book, The Better End: Surviving (and Dying) on Your Own Terms in Today’s Modern Medical World, is available now from JHU Press. Dr. Morhaim will discuss the medical and legal issues related to end-of-life care on January 9 at 7:30 PM on Maryland Public Television’s Direct Connection.

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