Please help us make history, again. Nationally, this will be the fifth annual National Healthcare Decisions Day event and will be observed in Fort Dodge on Monday. The inaugural event, which was formally recognized by Congress and numerous state and local governments, included participation by 76 of the most prominent national health care, religious and legal associations and organizations. By the second year, more than 700 local and state organizations throughout the country also participated, and it has continued to expand every year.
At every level, the goal of this nationwide initiative is to ensure that all adults with decision-making capacity in America have both the information and the opportunity to communicate and document their future health care decisions. The first years' results were impressive - more than 750,000 people obtained resources to make their health care decisions known - but there remain millions of Americans to go.
While making health care decisions is often difficult in the best of circumstances, making decisions for others is even more complicated. Each of us has the ability to guide our health care providers and our loved ones about what we want-when we are feeling well.
Advance directives give you the ability to document the types of health care you do and do not want, and to name an "agent" to speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself. As Terri Schiavo's tragic situation vividly revealed to the nation some years ago, having an advance directive to help others know your wishes can be valuable for all adults, regardless of current age or health status.
With the Patient Self-Determination Act of 1990, Congress affirmed the right of every citizen to set forth his or her future health care wishes in writing with an "advance directive." Yet, various estimates suggest that only about 15 to 25 percent of all Americans have done so - and those numbers have been stubborn to budge. Because advance directives can be created without a lawyer, for free, and relatively easily, this figure is astonishingly low.
In recognition of this, National Healthcare Decisions Day strives to provide much-needed information to the public, reduce the number of tragedies that occur when a person's wishes are unknown, and improve the ability of health care facilities and providers to offer informed and thoughtful guidance about advance health care planning to their patients.
There is more information at www.nationalhealthcaredecisionsday.org (including free advance directives forms for every state) and tools to assist with thoughtful reflection on health care choices and ideas on how to get involved.
Locally, staff volunteers from Trinity Regional Medical Center will be available at the Crossroads Mall on Monday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., to provide free information about advance directives, copies of the form for review, and assistance with completing a form, having it notarized and even copies made for those who stop by for a visit.
Finally, to be effective advance directive information must be shared with your loved ones and colleagues, not kept secret. No matter how hard or awkward we may find it to talk about end of life, it in no way compares to the fear and anguish our loved ones will experience if/when they are called on to tell our providers what to do - and they stand there ignorant and helpless, without any tools to help them. In those moments, an advance directive is the most valuable gift you will ever give them.
With health care, "your decisions really do matter," however, others need to know your wishes to honor them. There are no wrong answers when thinking about health care choices and completing an advance directive. Please use this encouragement to decide, discuss, and document your wishes, whatever they may be.
The Rev. Phil Somsen is a chaplain at Trinity Regional Medical Center.