A class covering advance directives — or living wills — will be provided next week to help islanders determine the care and treatment they would like, or would like to avoid, at the end of life.
Compassion & Choices of Washington, whose mission is to help people die in the way they choose, will offer the Sunday afternoon course, which is co-sponsored by the Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship.
“Compassion & Choices offers information on how to decide what you want, how to communicate what you want and how to talk to your doctor about what you want,” said Kay Longhi, who is a member of the Unitarian fellowship and the president of the board of Compassion & Choices of Washington.
The Seattle nonprofit advocates for quality end-of-life care, and part of that is helping people prepare in advance for end-of-life issues, Longhi said. Rob Miller, the executive director of the organization, will lead the course.
Under Miller’s guidance, Longhi said, the workshop will include a time for values reflection, assistance completing the directives and the opportunity to have a completed document notarized. The document includes a living will and a durable power of attorney,
“People will leave done,” Longhi said.
Indeed, being done with such a document will place people well ahead of the curve, according to a recent CNN story.
While 84 percent of people say their loved ones know what they want, only 29 percent have had a serious conversation about end-of-life issues, according to CNN.
Even those conversations have their limits, however.
“Talking is good; writing it down is better,” Longhi said.
The Compassion & Choices directives that Miller will provide are considered to be state of the art, Longhi said, and were developed with the help of elder law attorneys and medical professionals. They have also been sanctioned and approved by King County Senior Services.
The directives, five pages long, are also available on the organization’s website and cover a multitude of subjects, including scenarios when people may not want life-sustaining treatment, instances when they might choose such treatment and their wishes concerning pain control. The directives also include information for wishes after death, including indicating a preference for whether or not an autopsy is performed and information on funeral arrangements.
Some advance directives cover topics only broadly, Longhi said, but Compassion & Choices directives are quite specific.
“The document is thorough enough to let your power of attorney know what you were thinking when you filled it out,” she said.
Miller will also provide instructions regarding what to do with the document once it is completed. That means passing it out to everyone: a personal physician and the person who has been designated to have the durable power of attorney, Longhi added.
Rev. Carmen McDowell of the Unitarian Fellowship recently spoke about why the group invited Miller to offer this workshop to the community.
“Our first principle is the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” she said. “We believe strongly people should have a say in matters of importance, such as life and death.”
Several other Unitarian congregations have offered such workshops, and they have been helpful, McDowell said. It makes sense to provide them, she said, in part because sometimes completing the directives is an emotional experience.
“As a faith community, we want to give support with this,” she said. “We want to hold (people) in care should something come up for them.”
Both Longhi and McDowell stress the workshop is for people of all ages, not just seniors.
“You don’t have to be older or elderly or sick to do this,” Longhi said, adding that parents of young children are especially encouraged to attend. “It is never too soon to do this.”
In Longhi’s own family, the lack of clear directives has been a painful issue. Her mother completed advance directives, but they were vague. Now in her 90s, Longhi’s mother suffers from dementia and is unable to communicate her desires.
“My sister and I have a very respectful disagreement about what she would want now that she is suffering from dementia,” Longhi said.
Leaving clear instructions, she said, provides the best chance to avoid situations such as this.
“You’re giving your loved ones a huge gift and attempting to ensure that you get the kind of death you want,” Longhi said.
The free workshop will be from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Sunday at Lewis Hall behind the Burton Community Church. A soup lunch will be served; RSVP for the lunch to firstname.lastname@example.org. A Unitarian service on grace and advanced planning will meet at 9:45 that morning. Both events are open to the community.