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Perhaps you have seen as you drive down Main Street this week the Taking Steps Brattleboro banner announcing “A Gift to Those Who Love You” and wonder why this banner is across Main Street each year during the week that April 16 falls? Taking Steps Brattleboro has this banner hung this week in honor of National Healthcare Decision Day/Week which occurs each year since 2008 to remind people that we all share in income tax filing on April 15 and the certainty of our own immortality (“tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes,” The Cobbler of Preston, Christopher Bullock, 1716).

We additionally remind those passing on Main Street that we can provide the gift of completing an advance directive for health care to those who love you. We are reminded that in the event of a medical crisis, when family and friends gather at the hospital having a completed advance directive offers guidance for your family and the medical team about one’s wishes for treatment decisions in the event you aren’t able to speak for yourself, thus avoiding the questioning of what would this person would want for treatment and the resulting emotional turmoil such questions can cause.

Since 2015, Brattleboro Area Hospice has sponsored the Taking Steps Brattleboro Advance Care Planning program to provide people with an opportunity to engage in heartfelt conversation about important choices and values one may have when thinking about these important questions of “what do I want for treatment if I’m unable to speak for myself?” TSB volunteers offer an opportunity to engage in this important life planning task that is so easy to avoid given the demands of daily living.

Feeling uneasy to discuss the various scenarios of medical issues and end-of-life concerns and wondering how to choose someone who can speak for you during a critical medical event? Data from 2018 show that 92 percent of people say that talking about these issues is important, while only 32 percent have actually done so. TSB’s goal is to increase the number of people who complete an advance directive in Windham County by offering no cost services to achieve this goal. TSB volunteers are available to guide someone through the conversation with loved ones, identify important values for defining quality of life and achieve a completed advance directive with witnessing, copying and distribution of the completed form.

If COVID-19 has reminded us of one fact, it’s that life is filled with uncertainties and our ability to predict the future is not perfect, therefore TSB recommends that anyone 18 years and older have a completed advance directive in place for those unknown future medical events. Medical providers report having an understanding of one’s wishes is very important in making treatment decisions that honor the wishes and beliefs that a person holds.

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Completing an advance directive prior to a medical event provides an opportunity in a non-crisis atmosphere to give this important issue thoughtful review and clarity. Additionally, once one has thought through one’s wishes it becomes less of a challenge to begin this conversation with your loved ones and medical providers. Statistics show that 95 percent of people want to talk about these values with family while fewer actually do, and 80 percent of people would want to talk with their physician about wishes for medical treatment while only 18 percent report having this conversation.

Another curious dimension to this discussion is to understand the many terms related to this topic. Because each state develops their own laws about advance care planning it is easy to be confused and wonder what terms are used in Vermont. An advance directive in Vermont is equal to a living will in many other states. An agent for health care in Vermont is the same as a durable power of attorney for health care or health care proxy in other states. A COLST/DNR (Clinical Order of Life Sustaining Treatment/Do Not Resuscitate) is the same as POLST/DNR or MOLST/DNR in another state. Additionally, having a completed advance directive is helpful in overcoming HIPAA (Health Information Privacy) restrictions health care providers are required to follow at to when and who to release medical information to during a medical event are considered.

There is value in providing guidance to your agent, family, friends and medical providers about what is important and where you would draw the line between “this life is worth living and let me go.” TSB’s purpose is to provide a safe environment to sort through this process and have a written record of your wishes. Obtaining TSB services can occur by calling 802-257-0775 ext. 101 and/or attending a weekly TSB Wednesday 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. Advance Care Planning Information Zoom meeting (request the Zoom invitation by emailing or calling).

Why me becomes why not me? Remember always that completing an advance directive is a “gift to those who love you,” and on April 16, take time for yourself and start this important conversation.

Don Freeman is the Brattleboro Program Coordinator for Taking Steps, an Advance Directive program offered by Brattleboro Area Hospice. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.