End-of-life plans made now can provide comfort to you and your loved ones. Talking about the end of life when we are healthy allows time to think about our values that influence decision making, time for loved ones to understand your wishes and time to document your plans. The decision is deeply personal. This information is not legal advice.
Start the conversation
Talk to your doctor about your current health conditions. Ask about risks and treatments. The office likely has written material about advanced directives, power of attorney for health care decisions and other information that will help you plan. There are documents on the internet that can help you consider values for choices near the end of life. I did a search for “values inventory for the end-of-life decisions.”
Talk to family and friends before an urgent health care decision must be made. You may find that you have shared experiences with friends who have had to make difficult health care decisions for a relative. What do they wish they had known before facing the questions? What could have been done differently to lessen the burden in an urgent or emergent situation?
Talk to your religious adviser.
Advance directives convey in writing a person’s choices regarding medical care and who will be their health care decision maker if they are unable to make these decisions or communicate them clearly.
New Mexico state statute, New Mexico Uniform Health Care Decisions Act, governs advance directives. The NM statutes provide a sample form, “Optional Advance Health-Care Directive.” An adult or emancipated minor, while having capacity, has the right to make his or her own health-care decisions and may give an individual instruction. The instruction may be oral or written; if oral, it must be made by personally informing a health care provider. The instruction may be limited to take effect only if a specified condition arises.
Information from the statute and in the form:
End-of-life decisions: If I am unable to make or communicate decisions regarding my health care, and IF (i) I have an incurable or irreversible condition that will result in my death within a relatively short time, OR (ii) I become unconscious and, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, I will not regain consciousness, OR (iii) the likely risks and burdens of treatment would outweigh the expected benefits, THEN I direct that my health-care providers and others involved in my care provide, withhold or withdraw treatment in accordance with the choice I have initialed below in one of the following three boxes:
The form contains choices for you to make, including organ or tissue donation. Take the time to understand the choices. Ask your doctor to explain the options. See the link below to access the form.
Power of attorney for health care
New Mexico statutes also contain a power of attorney form, which can be completed so it applies to health care decisions and goes into effect if you become incapacitated. It ceases to be effective upon a determination that you have recovered capacity.
According to the statute, the person appointed as the power of attorney for health care shall make a health care decision in accordance with the principal’s individual instructions, if any, and other wishes to the extent known to the agent. Otherwise, decisions shall be made in accordance with the agent’s determination of the principal’s best interest. In determining the principal’s best interest, consider the principal’s personal values to the extent known. You may also name an alternate agent to act for you if your first choice is not willing, able, or reasonably available to make decisions for you.
This form has a place for you to limit the authority of your agent. You need not limit the authority of your agent if you wish to rely on your agent for all health care decisions that may have to be made.
Health care agent
The person you select as your power of attorney for health care is also called your health care agent. Choose someone you trust. Your agent needs to be willing and able to make potentially difficult decisions about medical treatment for you. Discuss your desires, values, fears and preferences about medical care in various situations. The more your agent knows about you and your values, the more likely he or she will be to make the kinds of decisions you would make if you were able.
Make your decisions known
Give your doctor, health care agent and family members copies of the advanced directive and power of attorney for health care forms. If your wishes change, follow the process to create new documents.
Sources: UNM School of Medicine, hscc.unm.edu, sample form “Optional Advance Health-Care Directive,” NM Human Services Department, newmexico.networkofcare.org/mh/library/article.aspx?hwid=aa54776.