The good news is that West Virginians lead the nation in at least one positive health care statistic. Our residents are more likely than those in most other states to have filled out an advance directive such as a living will or medical power of attorney.
Advance directives make it much easier for families to decide what treatments their loved ones should receive at the end of life. In the combined living will and medical power of attorney form, the most commonly used advance directive in West Virginia, individuals can name someone they trust to make decisions for them and provide directions for the types of treatment they do and do not want at the end of life.
It’s vital that people choose for themselves how they want to spend their final days. Although there has been much talk nationally about “death panels,” filling out the appropriate forms will ensure that West Virginians retain control over their own lives and medical treatment.
In this country we have overmedicalized death. We all will die. We can die well – with our wishes respected and our pain controlled – or poorly, receiving treatments that we did not want and in extreme pain surrounded by strangers.
Fortunately, West Virginians can decide for themselves how they want to spend their final weeks, days and hours, and they have their choice of advance directives and a statewide system to ensure that those directives are respected when the time comes.
Pledge to yourself – and just as importantly your family – that by the time National Healthcare Decisions Day ends, you will have taken steps to make sure your wishes are clear to your family or the person you choose to make decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself.
To find out more about National Healthcare Decisions Day events in your local community, visit the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care’s website www.wvendoflife.org or call 877-209-8086. The center also provides free information and tools (including free advance directives forms) to help West Virginians to put their wishes in writing so that they will be followed.
Dr. Alvin H. Moss is director of the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care, which is based in Morgantown but works statewide.