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The Importance of a Living Will

Advance Directive Signing Picture 300x200 - The Importance of a Living WillBy Curtis Freed, MA, BCC

(Long Goodbye:  The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan)

Hospice personnel such as social workers, nurses, physicians, and even chaplains often stress the importance of having one’s end-of-life wishes (also known as an Advance Directive) in writing.  In the 2002 book Long Goodbye, author and lawyer William H. Colby, tells the compelling story of 20-year Nancy Cruzan who was seriously injured in a car accident in rural Missouri in 1983.

As a result of the accident, Nancy sustained a life-altering coma from which she was never fully functional again.  Her family waged an intense legal battle to have Nancy’s feeding tube removed and allow her to experience a peaceful, natural death.  At the time, Missouri state law forbade the removal of a feeding tube.  The family’s request was presented to the Missouri State Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.  The courts eventually sided with the Cruzan family.  Nancy later died peacefully in December 1990, seven years after her accident.

The story shows the importance of having your Advance Directive in place.   Not every individual who does not have his or her end-of-life wishes in place will end up in an intense legal battle.  Still, the importance of having your end-of-life wishes cannot be ignored.

Studies have shown that less than 50% of Americans have completed their Advance Directives (Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing, 2009).  Many are not familiar with end-of-life options; they have never sat down with a healthcare professional to discuss having their wishes in writing.

By composing your wishes in advance, you can get the medical care that matches your wishes, and at same time relieve your loved ones of having to make a difficult decision for you.  Advance Directives are for adults of all ages not just the elderly.  It is never too early to have your wishes in place.  A life-threatening accident or a sudden unexpected illness can leave you incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself.

Beyond that, an Advance Directive helps to reduce the length of stay and cost of care during hospitalization (Journal of Pain & Symptom Management, 2015).  Hospital stays are both expensive and often take a physical toll on patients and family members alike.  However, when Advance Directive and Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) orders are in place, patients usually experience a better quality of life.  This carries over to family members as well.  Better quality of life in the week leading up to death often results in improved coping ability for the caregivers of the patient.

The need to have one’s Advance Directive in place cannot be stressed enough.  No one wants to see his/her loved one suffer at the end of life.  Now is the time to have your end-of-life wishes in place in the event of the unthinkable happening.  Your loved ones need to know what those wishes are in order to alleviate your family making a decision for you.

For more information and support with completing your Advance Directive, please contact Harbor Hospice at 231.728.3442 or 1.800.497.9559.  You can also visit our website

The Charted Healthcare Planning Collaborative consist of multiple community and healthcare organizations in West Michigan, whose goals are to educate, create awareness, and give tools to communities regarding advance care planning. This long standing Health Project collaborative is formally known as the Muskegon End of Life Coalition.

Article published in Senior Perspectives Nov-Dec Issue (distributed and published by Senior Resources)


About the author

Freed Curtis 1 30 17 - The Importance of a Living Will

Curtis Freed is a Spiritual Care Counselor for Harbor Hospice.  He is a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) with the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC).  Prior to joining Harbor Hospice, he worked as a chaplain at Mercy VNS & Hospice for 3 years.   In addition, he worked as a chaplain for Spectrum Health at Butterworth and Blodgett Hospitals for 8 years.  He is a graduate of Liberty University (1987) and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (1990).

Harbor Hospice serving the West Michigan lakeshore.  Their agency has provided hospice care and support programs to residents in a five-county area for over 37 years.

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