MHSC: Don’t wait to have the Advance Directive talk


By Patty O’LexeyDirector of EducationMemorial Hospital of Sweetwater County

Have you wondered what type of medical care your parents would want should something happen? Have you wanted to tell your family what type of care you would like if you were unable to do so? For some, it sounds like a daunting task and a depressing subject.

It shouldn’t be. It’s an effort to be proactive in your choices or those of your loved ones.

An Advance Directive is meant to help you plan and let others know what kind of care you want. It is a legal form that allows you to say how you want to be cared for if something happens and you cannot speak for yourself. It is a tool to guide your loved ones and healthcare team in making clear decisions about your health if you can’t make medical decisions yourself.

Healthcare technologies are changing rapidly, such as artificial respiration, nutrition, hydration, and a myriad of procedures and treatments that can extend life. This may be concerning as to what kind of medical care you will receive if you should become terminally ill and unable to communicate. Do you want to spend months and/or years on life support machines? What types of life support are acceptable?

You don’t want to cause unnecessary emotional and financial distress to those who love you, but where do you begin? Here’s some information that will help:

Talk about it: It all starts with a conversation. It may not be fun, but it is important for you and your family. If you have not made these decisions ahead of time, these decisions may be left to your loved ones to make. Preparing ahead will not leave the burden on your loved ones during a crisis. Taking time to complete your Advance Directive provides your loved ones with peace of mind. It will minimize stress and reduce conflict among family members.

Pick someone: Ask someone to be your healthcare agent. Be sure this person knows your wishes and will support those wishes when needed. Talk frequently with your agent about your healthcare wishes so they don’t have to make those decisions for you. Your written Advance Directive should be specific, clear, and available if needed. It should be re-evaluated and revised whenever your medical condition change. Provide an Advance Directive in writing whenever possible. It will clearly reflect your intention to direct future healthcare and cannot be easily challenged in court. 

Know what you want: Life-sustaining treatment is any treatment that serves to prolong life without reversing the underlying medical condition. Life-sustaining treatment may include but is not limited to, mechanical ventilation, renal dialysis, chemotherapy, antibiotics, artificial nutrition and hydration, surgery, blood transfusions, and other medications and treatments that may prolong the end of life.

What’s a POLST? Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is a recently developed program that is designed to improve the quality of care people receive at the end of life. Although it can be used by anyone, it is best suited for people who have a chronic, serious or advanced illness, are frail, or are of advanced age. The POLST effectively communicates certain medical orders based on your advance care planning wishes using a brightly colored form. It can be transferred from one care setting to another. Healthcare providers have promised to honor it. 

Get the form: The Wyoming Advance Directive is the legal, five-part form you need to complete.

In it, you’ll be asked to pick a Power of Attorney for Healthcare (your agent). Instructions will guide you to make life-sustaining decisions. You’ll be asked if you have arrangements through Wyoming Registry or donation to science. Information is needed on your primary care provider and the hospital where most of your medical records can be located. Finally, you’ll sign the document, as well as your agent and two witnesses and/or a notary.

You can change your mind: Remember, an Advance Directive is designed to fit your wishes now. It is a living document that should be updated to fit your changing needs. 

As long as you can make your own decisions, you may revoke all or part of your Advance Directive. You may revoke the designation of your agent (in Part I) only by signed and dated writing and only as long as you can make your own decisions.

A decree of annulment, divorce, dissolution of marriage, or legal separation revokes the designation of your spouse as an agent unless you otherwise specify in your advance healthcare directive.

An advance healthcare directive that conflicts with an earlier directive revokes the earlier directive to the extent of the conflict.

Don’t delay … have the talk today.

For a copy of the Advance Directive form, go to the Patients & Visitors tab at Click on the Resources page, where you’ll find copies in English and Spanish.

MHSC Education Director Patty O’Lexey holds a Bachelor of Nursing Degree. 

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