Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
July 16, 2001
A handy personal directive
Ethics centre simplifies process of giving instructions to medical personnel
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — If you ever lose your capacity to make decisions affecting the future of your life, what do you do?
If Sister Mary Lou Cranston had her way, you would carry instructions in your wallet telling medical personnel what to do or informing them who should make those decisions on your behalf.
The idea, called a personal directive, is not new. Personal directives have been legal in Alberta since late 1997 and Cranston, the director of the Catholic Ethics Centre, has been lecturing on them ever since. Now she has decided to make them more accessible and practical.
Right now the ethics centre is developing a wallet size personal health care package that will allow the holder to make their wishes known when they no longer can say what they want.
"I wanted to help people to know that they could do this and how to do it and that's why we created them at the ethics centre," Cranston said. "We have an ethical right at all times to say what kind of health care treatment we want."
There are three kinds of directives in Alberta. The first allows a person to simply name an agent, somebody that's going to speak for him or her. The second allows a person to give detailed instructions as to what type of health care he or she wants or doesn't want. The third type of directive allows a person to do both.
The ethics centre has developed small cards where people can give information about their agent or indicate the location of their directive. The card can be folded into a credit card size and fit into a wallet.
The ethics centre, however, will provide a blue plastic folder for the card with the words "Health Care Information" and the ethics centre's logo on its cover.
"If you name an agent only, say your daughter Sarah, and you land in a hospital with a heart attack, we would know we are supposed to contact Sarah as soon as we find the card," Cranston said.
People who choose to give specific instructions on the type of health care they want will carry a little card informing medical personnel of the fact they have a personal directive and where that directive is kept.
Directives should be kept in places where they are immediately accessible, such as on the fridge, in a dresser drawer, a jewelry box, a nightstand, a purse/wallet or the doctor's office.
A directive only comes into play when the patient is no longer competent to make his or her own decisions, Cranston said. "For example, if you had a heart attack and I can go to your directive, it may say you really don't want open heart surgery."
Some people argue that personal directives are a step towards assisted suicide. Cranston thinks the exact opposite is true. "They are a sure way of making sure you don't get knocked off because I have the right to say, for example, that I don't want open heart surgery if I'm 90 years of age."
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