UVM Medical Center officials urge people to get advance directives

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Studies show that only 37 percent of people nationwide have an advance directive, so now health care professionals are encouraging more people to get a living will.

It's not something we like to talk about, but it's something that could save your loved ones a lot of heartache. Advance directives, or living wills, let caretakers know the kind of care you want if you're not able to speak for yourself.

Health care professionals are constantly working to up the number of people who have one, including at the UVM Medical Center.

"Sometimes when you get sick you can't speak up for yourself. It's always best if the patient says, 'If this happens, what I really care about is this,'" said UVM's Dr. Tim Lahey.

Filling out an advance directive takes away the guessing game, so you get the kind of care you want. Lahey says often the people left in charge struggle to know the wants and desires of the people who are ill if their care hasn't been discussed beforehand.

In Vermont, there are no laws that require an advance directive or automatically assign a family member to make decisions. Without one, it's on doctors and nurses to find someone to speak on your behalf. If they can't find one, hospital staff make the difficult decisions for you.

"Families are really struggling at the bedside where someone is very sick and may be in the intensive care unit but hasn't indicated how long they want to stay there," Lahey said.

One thing to keep in mind when filling out the advance directive is to make sure you have a conversation with the person you choose and make sure they are comfortable speaking on your behalf. And you can pick several people, just in case one person is away or not available.

The basic question to answer is what kind of care do you want? Some people might choose "save me at any cost" while others might say "keep me alive but only if I can communicate with my family and loved ones." This should all be part of the conversation you have with the person you choose to speak for you.

"Have a witness sign at the end and then you need to get that on file somewhere. The best thing to do is give it to your physician and ask your physician to put that on your medical record," Lahey said.

He says the advance directive is not really about the form, it's more about the conversation you have with your loved ones about the kind of care you want.

Click here for more information on living wills.