National Healthcare Decisions Day

by Char Brooks, J.D., Project Healthy Living Coach

Medicine and health care“Dying is part of the human experience and part of the natural progression in life. We have the capacity to transform how we live and die in this culture.” – Ellen Goodman, co-founder of The Conversation Project.

Despite the fact that I am an attorney and have also been a caregiver several times to family members, I find it difficult to write about National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD). Instead of asking myself why that’s the case, I’m going to tell you a story about how important it is to talk about end of life decisions regardless of how old you are.

My husband died in his mid 30’s of a brain tumor. As a couple, we never acknowledged together that his diagnosis from the beginning was grave. The doctor’s said that “he’d never know what hit him” which was the “blessing of his tumor”.

Needless to say, as his wife and caregiver I felt differently. For the last 6 months of his life, I found myself guessing what kind of care he would want because he was simply unable to understand the gravity of his situation. To this day, I question some of the choices I made for him as his patient advocate.

Though he had a healthcare power of attorney, he did not have a living will. We never thought it would happen to us. We never discussed what kinds of medical treatments he’d like if he wasn’t able to speak for himself.

That was over 20 years ago.

April 16, 2015 marks the 8th Annual National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD). This day is dedicated to having the conversations with your loved ones about what your wishes are for your healthcare if you are unable to speak for yourself. Do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones.

Without these conversations, it is likely that your loved ones could one day be struggling with the pain of seeing you in a serious condition and the uncertainty of not knowing how to respect your wishes.

Advance directives come in two main forms:

  1. A “healthcare power of attorney” (or “proxy” or “agent” or “surrogate”) documents the person you select to be your voice for your healthcare decisions if you cannot speak for yourself. This power of attorney will give a person the legal right to carry out your wishes.
  2. A “living will” documents what kinds of medical treatments you would or would not want at the end of life. This is is an informal document in which you record what your wishes are should you be unable to speak for yourself. You can designate what forms of intervention you do or do not want to have, and you can attach a Do Not Resuscitate form. You can make more personal requests as well, such as what kind of music you’d like to listen to.

The American Bar Association states in its publication, Myths and Facts About Health Care Advance Directives, that ⅔ of Americans do not have an advance directive. Advance directives are available from many sources. One good source is This website lists many resources for obtaining advance directives and for talking to your loved ones about your wishes.

There are different events around Michigan. To find one in your area, you can google National Healthcare Decision Day Michigan. Use National Healthcare Decision Day to inspire you to have the conversations with those you care about about their last wishes – do it for yourself, do it for those you love.

For more information on advanced directives, check out our other blog posts here. If you have any additional questions regarding these advance directives or medical planning, please call the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors at 1-800-347-5297.

5144274Char is a Project Healthy Living Coach and Attorney with Elder Law of Michigan. In January 2013, Char became employed at ELM as an attorney focusing her efforts on writing articles for the blog as well as working on internal communications.

Char holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Michigan State University, and graduated with her Juris Doctor from Thomas M. Cooley Law School over 30 years ago. Prior to joining ELM, Char worked for Michigan Health and Hospital Association as an attorney representing 140 hospitals throughout the state of Michigan in unemployment compensation cases. Char has also received her certification as a Life Coach in 2004. Char is now teaching Project Healthy Living Classes in mid-Michigan and continues writing in various capacities for Elder Law of Michigan.

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