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Myths and facts about advance directives

Would you be able to write a "Jeopardy” clue for the answer, "What is an advance directive?” More importantly, why should you know about advance directives?

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization is encouraging awareness of advance care planning around the anniversary of Terri Schiavo's death, when many people reflect on end-of-life decisions.

Just in case you have an inkling, but not really an understanding, of what an advance directive is or what it can do for you, here is the "Cliff Notes” version of the process and clarification on common misconceptions about directives.

• Myth No. 1: People who have filled out a will don't need to fill out an advance directive.

Directives are about medical care, not assets. They are the directions you put on paper, in advance, for the care decisions you would want made for yourself, in case some day you are not able to participate in your medical care decision-making process.

• Myth No. 2: An advance directive gives my decision-making powers to someone else.

A directive allows you to select the person to speak for you if you are not able to make decisions for yourself, a person you trust to carry out the wishes you recorded.

• Myth No. 3: Advance directives are only for sick or dying people.

Filling out a directive should happen before you need it. Having conversations about what you do and don't want done for you, and writing down preferences while you are healthy and able becomes a gift to your loved ones in situations such as Terri Schiavo's, or at the end of a terminal illness. Terri needed to complete her directive earlier in life when she was healthy, then review and possibly revise it every couple of years thereafter.

• Myth No. 4: Filling out an advance directive is a complicated legal process.

A directive is a legal document, but filling one out is not complicated. There are booklets available that guide you through the basic topics to discuss and provide opportunities for adding statements about specific things that may be important to you.

Topics in the booklet available from Munson Medical Center cover five wishes: The person I want to make care decisions for me when I can't; the kind of medical treatment I want or don't want; how comfortable I want to be; how I want people to treat me; and what I want my loved ones to know.

An advance directive allows your wishes to guide the care you receive at end of life. The process begins with having conversations to discuss your wishes. Take time to talk with your loved ones about the care you would want at end of life.

Community members can pick up a Five Wishes booklet at any Munson registration area, or call (231) 935-6176 to request a mailed booklet. Munson offers someone to assist with completing an advance directive, and knowledgeable, compassionate speakers to talk with community groups.

About the author
Nancy Bordine is a registered nurse at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City and a Certified Advance Care Planning facilitator.

About the forum
The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing Please include biographical information and a photo.

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