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Article published June 26, 2013
End of life decisions
Denise Coyle, BSN Butler
Death and dying is a topic most people do not talk about until faced with a serious or life-limiting illness. In some cases, families must guess what a loved one would or would not want. As a hospice nurse, I often see families struggling with difficult decisions during this time. I want to offer some information and resources that can help you be proactive about end of life care. In Pennsylvania, the advance health care directive, or living will, communicates your wishes if you are unable to express them yourself. It guides your health care agent and family regarding choices about medical decisions commonly faced at the end of life. This form addresses wishes for CPR, tube feedings, dialysis and other aggressive measures. These topics can be confusing and if further explanation is needed while completing the form your physician can help offer clarification. Notarization for the advance health care directive is not required by Pennsylvania law; however, the form should be signed and witnessed by two adults. A copy of your advance health care directive should be given to your power of attorney, family members, physicians, attorney and clergy, if you desire. Also, keep a copy in an accessible, but secure place. Anyone who is 18 years or older, married or is a high school graduate can create an advance health care directive in Pennsylvania. Planning ahead allows you to voice your preferences and prevent your family from having to make difficult, sometimes financially burdensome decisions. The Pennsylvania Department of Aging provides an online brochure entitled Understanding Advance Directives for Healthcare. If you do not have access to the internet you can request a hard copy of the form from Pennsylvania Department of Aging, Office of the Chief Counsel, 555 Walnut St., 5th Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17101; or call 717-783-1609. Taking the time to make these decisions now can bring you and your family comfort knowing that your wishes will be honored.