The Patient Self-Determination Act, which took effect nationally on Dec. 1, will unquestionably hand more people the awesome task of acting on the medical behalf of a loved one. According to the law, all health care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding must inform patients of their right to accept or reject medical treatment that would prolong life.
Furthermore, documents such as living wills and durable powers of attorney must be provided to patients who choose to have their wishes recorded and followed. Such documents will then become part of the patients' records.
I am encouraged by the heightened awareness of advance directives to physicians and family members. It is essential that we contribute to the architecture of our own physical destinies, as much as circumstances will allow. The arsenal of technology must be halted when the soul would be sacrificed to save the body.
But words alone will remain impotent unless they are empowered with significance for those who are left to interpret them. I ignored many opportunities to ask Grandpa about medical situations that could arise, or to have explored the reasons behind his desires I had typed. I ignored them because the "whats" on the paper had seemed like enough. I now know the "whys" would have let me sleep through the night.
While medical clairvoyance is not possible, we can identify many of our own treatment limitations and express such boundaries to loved ones. Dialogue needs to occur between young and old alike, since accidents or illness can render anyone a sudden victim of arbitrary medicine. If documents are prearranged, the "whys" for final directives must be explained, before it becomes necessary for one to step inside another's heart, searching for an answer.
Only then can words be written to last a lifetime.