The Most Important Choice

by Ross Healthcare Staff

Life is all about choices. The choices we make not only define who we are, but also the quality of our lives. Our ability to make independent decisions and to have self-determination is defined as autonomy.  In other words, autonomy is our right and ability to choose. Autonomy is the highest ethical principle guiding healthcare in America today. Our society believes strongly that each person has the right to make their own decisions regarding what type of medical treatment they want to receive.

This includes the right to limit or stop treatments. Only the person who is receiving the treatment can weigh the benefits of that treatment against the burdens (side effects, financial cost, time involved, etc.). If the burdens are too great, the person may well decide to decline that treatment option.

In the state of Oklahoma, a person has the right to choose to decline any medical treatment. However, when the person loses the ability to make their own decisions, state law dictates that all measures must be taken to prolong life, unless the person has completed an Advance Directive. The Advance Directive contains a living will and is a legally binding document. It is the best way to assure that a person retains control over their health care even when unable to make their own choices. The Advance Directive also allows a person to name a Healthcare Proxy, which is a person authorized to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person. Unless a Healthcare Proxy has been named, no one has the legal right to make decisions to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment such as ventilators, tube feedings, etc.

The term “life-sustaining” is sometimes misleading. Each person eventually reaches a point where medical science is no longer prolonging life but simply prolonging the dying process. Once that point has been reached and the decision has been made to discontinue treatments, there is still much that can, should and must be done to care for the dying person and their family members. Hospice care is one option for services that care for patients long past the point of cure.

Completion of an Advance Directive allows a person to stipulate at what point they would want to limit life-prolonging treatment. It provides control of treatment choices long past the point of a person’s inability to make decisions. It also relieves family members of making agonizing decisions and makes an already difficult situation much easier to bear.

If you would like assistance in completing your own Advance Directive, please contact the Ross Health Care office at 224-0012. As part of our commitment to the community, a representative is always available to answer questions or make an appointment to review and complete the Advance Directive form.