RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Wednesday is National Healthcare Decisions Day. It's a day to encourage you to decide what care you want if you have a medical emergency and can't speak for yourself.
Terri Schiavo was in a vegetative state while her husband and family battled in court for years in the 2000s over whether to remove her feeding tubes. The same thing happened in Virginia in the late 1990s, when Hugh Finn suffered severe brain damage in a car accident.
Battles like these can be avoided when patients have an advance directive - a living will stating whether they want their life prolonged if they're no longer able to make decisions, and who can speak for them.
Attorney Molly Huffman with the lawfirm Hancock, Daniel, Johnson, and Nagle, explained, "it is so important to have one of these so that people can make those decisions while they're still able to do so, and relieve that burden and pressure and anxiety that often results for the family member."
HDJN is offering free seminars on living wills to hospitals and other groups statewide all month. They see what happens when patients don't have living wills.
"Hospitals and health care providers call us and it's oftentimes when the family member can't make a decision," said Huffman.
People can have their own living will written or use a standardized form, which they say are easier to fill out than most think.
You can download a form from the Virginia State Bar website. Standard forms typically ask that you designate someone, giving them power of attorney to speak for you if you can't speak. Then you'll check boxes as to whether you want certain steps taken to prolong your life and whether you want to be an organ donor after your death. In Virginia, advance directives are not required to be notarized or executed by an attorney. But you will need two witnesses to sign it.
Then directions suggest you give the original to your designated agent with power of attorney, and copies to your family members and doctors. You can bring a copy to a hospital with you or you can register it on VirginiaRegistry.org so it can be found if needed.