Be ready with an advance directive

Published 9:48 pm Friday, March 6, 2015

Bobbi Kristina Brown was recently discovered in her Atlanta home, unresponsive in a bathtub of water. This is the similar to the way her mother, singer Whitney Houston, was found dead three years ago this month.

Media reports about Brown have detailed that she is “fighting for her life.” This woman now exists with a breathing tube from a tracheotomy procedure in which a surgically made opening is created in the neck and the tube is inserted into the windpipe.

Some of you may remember the names of Karen Ann Quinlan and Terri Schiavo. Through separate, unexpected events, both these young women were left in lengthy persistent vegetative states.

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They received substantial media attention, as well as state legislative, congressional, and Supreme Court decisions over the right to life, end-of life, and the importance of having an advance directive.

So what is an advance directive? An advance directive documents an individual’s personal wishes and preferences for medical care in situations when they are temporarily or permanently unable to make or communicate their decisions. It is a “what if” planning document.

These documented preferences maintain the individual’s independence and dignity by guiding medical care based on one’s personal choices, regardless of mental or physical capacity.

Ovid, a Roman poet who lived from 43 B.C. and 17 A.D. said, “If you are not ready today, you will be even less so tomorrow.” This wisdom applies to our individual readiness to document what treatment we would want — or would not want — to receive if we could not communicate due to serious illness or injury.

Consider this; national studies taken in 2004 and again in 2014 indicate nine out of 10 people believe it is important that their wishes as to medical treatment be followed should a serious illness or injury leave them unable to speak or communicate. At the same time, the surveys indicated that only three out of 10 actually had made their wishes known in writing.

Clearly there is a difference between the recognized value of having one’s health care wishes followed and the action to make those wishes known.

In 2014, four regional health systems and four area agencies on aging, including Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia, formed a coalition to promote understanding of advance care planning in the community and individual action on creating an advance directive.

Late last year they launched the As You Wish Advance Care Planning program. They have a website,, where the Virginia Advance Directive for Health Care can be downloaded, and answers to frequently asked questions are listed.

Perhaps more important, the program conducts the conversation in the community, individually, with adults 18 and over. Through direct assistance, the program closes the gap between understanding advance directives and actually having one.

More than a legal decision, more than a medical decision, this is a human decision. Whatever your approach, protect yourself by creating your advance directive. There is no time like the present. Were he here today, Ovid would agree.

David Murray is the director of the Advance Care Planning Coalition of Eastern Virginia. Email him at A version of this column previously appeared in the Daily Press.