Taking Back Power in the Face of Terminal Illness:
How Advance Planning Can Help
In December, 2009 my father-in-law was diagnosed with glioblastoma—a highly malignant and aggressive brain cancer.   Three months later he was gone.  Up until then, I had only seen brain cancer played out in movies and in races with people donning pink ribbons.  But suddenly, our family was living it.   

A diagnosis of terminal illness goes hand-in-hand with feelings of fear, anger, grief, helplessness, and loss of control.  But there are things that can be done to help people take control of their lives and feel empowered-- like executing an advance directive.

Often, advance directives are used as somewhat generic forms that address only artificial life sustaining treatment in the event of incapacity.  What many people, including some attorneys, do not realize is that this document can do so much more. When drafted conscientiously and with the specific needs of the individual in mind, this document can be tailored to address a vast array of concerns and fears for the future.  It can assist caregivers and medical professionals in determining the best ways to administer care, can list life values, and can outline preferences for treatment as well as other life decisions. For example, the advance directive can articulate preferences and instructions with regard to:
·      home care versus hospital care
·      when and how long to prolong life to allow out-of-town loved ones to say goodbye
·      aspects of comfort care, including choice of music and other preferences
·      degree of sedation balanced against degree of pain relief
·      messages for loved ones regarding the difficult choices they may face in decision making
·      fears about the dying process and how to address them  

A carefully crafted advance directive can make a monumental difference in the lives of people facing terminal illness.  In the face of a devastating prognosis they can feel empowered, enabled, and less fearful.  When drafting an advance directive, it is important to work with an attorney who knows how to create this type of document in a way that specifically addresses the individuals fears and concerns.  An experienced attorney will know what questions to ask and what life values and preferences to explore in order to draft a comprehensive, effective document.