Have you ever wondered what would happen if you suddenly became a hospital patient with a serious injury or illness, unable to communicate with medical professionals providing your care? Or what would family members or friends do if asked to make life-changing decisions on your behalf?

April 16, National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), was created to highlight the importance of advance healthcare decision-making. It is meant to serve as a conversation-starter, encouraging everyone to talk about his or her future healthcare decisions and execute written advance directives (healthcare power of attorney and living wills) in accordance with their applicable state laws.

The National Hospice Foundation, sponsor of NHDD, says that although several states have engaged in advance directives awareness events and numerous organizations have devoted substantial time and money to improving education about advance healthcare planning, only a small minority of Americans has executed an advance directive.

A study from The Pew Research Center, “More Americans Discussing – and Planning -End-of-Life Treatment” found 42% of Americans have had a friend or relative suffer from a terminal illness or coma in the last five years, and for a majority of these people and 23% of the general public, the issue of withholding life sustaining treatment came up. The survey concluded that an overwhelming majority of the public supports laws that give patients the right to decide whether they want to be kept alive through medical treatment. There was some good news from the survey, too. One of the most striking changes between 1990 and 2005 is the growth in the number of people who say they have a living will – up 17 points, from 12% in 1990 to 29% now.

To learn more about National Healthcare Decisions Day and access a toolkit to take steps to create your own Advance Directives take a look around their site.

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