“It’s time, Sandra.” This was the subject line of an email I received in November from a dear friend encouraging me to write my next article. “Sandra, have you written another article yet?” This question has been contained in every email from my mother since about the same time. Flattering as it may be to have more than just my mother looking for my articles, I admit time has gotten away on me. I haven’t written an article since September — in other words, since last year!
Ironically, in this gap of time filled with various demands and priorities, I've been procrastinating about writing an article on something we all seem to put off: advance health care planning. We are wired to tend to the urgent and immediate. Being disciplined to make contingency plans or take precautionary measures usually happens if we believe our loved ones may in some way be affected, but focusing on personal advance health care planning is a contemplation and conversation that is too easily delayed. We always think there’s more time, right up until we have a brush with illness or find ourselves journeying with someone to the end of life.
Last October the Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan (CHAS) launched a new faith-based Advance Health Care Directive booklet and form. It invites you to consider your present and future health care condition, and how you might want to direct your care, specifically if you lose the capacity to make your own decisions. Clearly there is no way to anticipate every variable and health care outcome, but the booklet and form does guide you through some key considerations.
The booklet will inform you about what an advance health care directive is, why you should complete one, and why this resource is unique in its faith-based approach. It articulates some of the specific legislation in Saskatchewan regarding health care directives and substitute decision-making, and clarifies the role of a health care proxy (or proxies) versus a power of attorney. (Spoiler alert: this is the question we get asked most often, and the answer is . . . yes, your health care proxy can be the same as your power of attorney, but the appointments should be made separately.)
The advance care directive form included in the booklet detaches and, once completed, can serve as your legally binding document that articulates your wishes. Copies of your completed directive can be made and offered to your health care professionals, loved ones and clergy if you wish.
At the end of the booklet there are definitions and footnotes that will help you better understand some of the medical terminology and key concepts that are referred to. I would like to reiterate that this resource is a booklet, not a comprehensive work on every situation or question you may encounter. The intent of this resource is to make the information approachable and understandable. It’s designed to invite you to carefully consider your wishes. It helps to start a conversation with loved ones. It gives you a way to communicate your wishes in the event that you find yourself unable to make health care decisions for yourself. Ideally, we hope this resource inspires you to find time to bring this important work of advance health care planning into the focus of today, knowing that it holds great benefit to loved ones and health care professionals to navigate any stressful or difficult health decisions that might be needed tomorrow.
Printed booklets are available for purchase from the CHAS office (306-655-5330 or firstname.lastname@example.org) for $5 each, or a bulk rate of $3 each for 25+ copies plus shipping. An electronic version of the booklet and form is also found online at www.chassk.ca. Would your organization or group benefit from an educational session on end of life issues and advance health care directives? Please call CHAS to request.
Kary is the executive director of the Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan.