Starting "the conversation"
At White Mountain Community Health Center we've been talking about death and how to plan for it, that is. Many don't want their life extended by machines, but fewer than one-third have the documents in place to enforce that. A group of healthcare professionals in the Mount Washington Valley have been working to change that, including our social worker Christine MacDonald. You can read more about that group here.
Advance care planning starts with a conversation between you and the people who you'll want to be involved in decisions at the end of your life. Before having that conversation, you need to figure out who those people are, and think through your answers to the questions that will come up.
Two organizations have workbooks that lead you through this conversation. Begintheconversation.org has a very extensive workbook which leads you through many of the things you may want to think through and document. Theconversationproject.org has a shorter starter kit to help you get your thoughts together before having the conversation with a loved one.
Once you've thought through what you want and talked to the people who you want involved in these decisions, you need to document your wishes in order for them to have legal and medical power. The legal document used to do this is called an advance directive. This designates who you wish to make decisions for you if you are incapacitated (known as "power of attorney") and specifics about the medical treatment you want.
Maine's advance directive form is available through DHHS's Aging & Disability Services. New Hampshire's is available through Foundation for Healthy Communities at www.healthynh.org. In Maine, you can also use a document called Five Wishes, which goes beyond medical decisions to talk about your comfort and other things you want your loved ones to know, and is available at www.agingwithdignity.org.
If you are already seriously ill, you may also want to create a physician order for life-sustaining treatment, or POLST. This is an actual medical directive which has more immediate power and is a lot more specific than an advance directive. A POLST should be filled out with a health care professional and must be signed by a physician, so the best starting place is a conversation with your provider.
Many of the resources I've listed are most easily available online. If it is difficult for you to access them online, White Mountain Community Health Center has copies of the workbooks and forms available for free at our front desk during business hours, Monday-Friday 9 am - 4 pm.