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ADVANCE DIRECTIVES: WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?

by Karlan Fairchild



My name is Reverend Karlan Fairchild, MDiv. I am a hospice chaplain. For my background, I graduated from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth with a Master of Divinity. I studied in both seminary and in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), a post-graduate continuing education program for seminary graduates whose goal is chaplaincy, to be a chaplain; following CPE, I worked as a hospice chaplain for the last fifteen years. I learned many important aspects of life in the United States during my years as a hospice chaplain, such as the fact that everyone has a story and rarely has a chance to share their story. But, as it pertains to my thesis, I also learned the value of having an Advance Directive.

What is an Advance Directive? Are there multiple Advance Directives? What do they accomplish? Why are they necessary? How do they impact me? How do they impact my family? How do I get one, or all of them? Is it complicated to get them? All of these questions are good for you to ask and I will address each individually.

Simply put, the term Advance Directive is an umbrella term which is used to describe three separate legal documents. The three documents are: Medical Power of Attorney (MPOA); Directive to Physicians (aka Living Will); and, Out-of-Hospital Do Not Resuscitate (DNR). Each of these documents serve a different purpose. The MPOA is the document that is used to designate someone, whether a family member, trusted friend, etc., to make medical decisions for you if you aren’t able to communicate. The Directive to Physicians is the document that is used to indicate what your wishes are in such a circumstance, ie., whether you want heroic measures if you are deemed to have an irreversible or terminal condition. The DNR is the document that is connected to the Directive to Physicians and it is used to indicate your wish to be allowed to die peacefully, whether in your private residence or in a facility. I feel compelled to make two final comments about the documents: (1) although they’re legal documents, it isn’t necessary to involve an attorney; and, (2) it isn’t necessary to have the documents notarized, although you can have them notarized if that is your wont.

As a very wise man told me as I began my years at Brite Divinity, none of us are going to get out of this alive. Therefore, it just makes sense to plan ahead for that inevitable eventuality (which most citizens of the United States try to avoid contemplating). Advance Directives are the means and methods for you to do precisely that necessary preparation, and they provide the opportunity to have difficult but vitally important conversations with your loved ones. Quite obviously, this discussion allows you to inform your family what you want done and how you want to be treated as you approach that borne from which no one returns (to quote a famous poet). As you age, the last thing you should want to do is to burden your loved ones with an enormous responsibility and leave them in the dark regarding your wishes; think of it as a measure of love demonstrated in practice.

As you complete the documents and engage in those difficult conversations, you are afforded the time and opportunity to inform your family that you either want to be kept alive using current life support systems, or you refuse to be kept in that state. Needless to say, this has a vitally important impact on you and your family because it eliminates any decisions at a time in which most people have difficulty making rational decisions.

The process of obtaining the various Advance Directives is very simple. All that is required is access to the internet to perform an easy download. The procedure from there is to discuss the documents with your family and/or friends, complete the documents with a witness (who is not related to you), keep the original in a safe place, make several copies to give to family members and/or trusted associates, and rest easy that you have given your loved ones the gift of a lifetime.


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