April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day


To the Editor:
April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day, sponsored by the Massachusetts-based Conversation Project. One of the best decisions we can make is deciding “what matters most” to us if we were to face a life-threatening illness. 

Since it was initiated in 2008 by Nathan Kottkamp, a Virginia-based lawyer specializing in elder law, Healthcare Decisions Day has acted as a reminder to all of us to take time to reflect on several important questions: Have we designated someone to speak on our behalf on health issues if we are not able to speak for ourselves? Have we had a conversation with that person about what our wishes would be if we are confronted with a life-threatening illness and could not make our own decisions? Have we completed a healthcare proxy form officially designating who will speak on our behalf? Is this form in a place where it can be easily retrieved if needed, and not in a safe deposit box or lawyer’s office? Have we shared this document and “what matters most” with our doctor? And if we have done all this in the past, is it now time to do it again, because our circumstances have changed?

Fewer than 20 percent of all residents of Martha’s Vineyard have a complete healthcare proxy form filed with their medical records at M.V. Hospital. Everyone over the age of 18 should. Medical emergencies that limit our ability to speak for ourselves are not confined to older people. As the COVID-19 pandemic has sadly demonstrated, we are all vulnerable to severe illness. Those of us who are healthcare professionals have seen all too often the needless suffering of the families of patients who had not taken the time to let others know “what matters most.” Taking the time to plan ahead on critical healthcare issues is prudent. It is also a gift of love to those you care about and who care about you.

To learn more about how to have a conversation on “what matters most,” you can contact Healthy Aging MV, Cindy Trish, 508-693-7900, ext. 455, or consult our website, hamv.org/advance-care-planning. For your sake and for the sake of those who you care about, do not delay. Decide to act today.

Robert J. Laskowski, M.D.
Healthy Aging MV, advance care planning coalition