What your Advance Directive has to do with Cookout Season.

Dedicated to Grandma Jones, Grandma Harris, and Aunt Geraldine. Rest easy – a better day is coming.

There are two seasons I love – the Christmas season and COOKOUT season. *cues electric slide*

Cookout season is better than any of the basic, generic, four seasons. The weather is great, the food is better than great, and you are with folks you love and who love you. You got your uncles on the grill. You got your aunties droppin’ knowledge. You got your cousins and friends crackin’ jokes. And if you hit a proper cookout, there’s no end time. Laughs, wisdom, and good vibes only – cookout season is the best.

Since I’ve moved away from home, I don’t make it to family cookouts often. But when I do, I cherish those moments. Over the past year, I lost three of my cookout regulars. They were staples in my life and in a way, I never thought I could loose them. Just like that – the cookout dynamic changed. Cookout season reminds me of how fragile and uncertain life can be and how much I want the best for the people in my life. And because I’m always thinking about bioethics, that got me thinking about advance directives.

An advance directive is legal document that lets a health care professional know your desires for end-of-life treatment. It is a two part document that consists of a living will and a power of attorney. The living will deals with your end-of-life treatment. The power of attorney allows for you to designate a person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to speak for yourself. Each state’s advance directive form can have a slightly different format, but they all achieve the same goals.  Advance directives are important because they express a person’s wishes regarding end-of-life treatment, life-sustaining therapy, organ donation, and the like. They aren’t just for the more *ahem* “seasoned” folks in our lives. Anyone can have them – and they should have multiple copies. You should have a copy on your person and a trusted family member should have a copy as well.

Some critics say that advance directives are not effective for a few reasons. One of the main issues is that a health care professional may not actually see your advance directive until much later – if at all. For example, if you have a copy in a drawer in your house, a health care professional may not see it. Another issue with advance directives are that they can become outdated if they are not updated regularly.  In my personal opinion, I think it is better to have one than to have nothing. Even if a health care professional doesn’t see it right away, it gives your family guidance as to what you would want. It also will formally determine who can speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself. Also – POLST forms are available in most states for the seriously ill. These forms are medical orders that your health care professional fills out to specify immediate end of life treatment goals. However, POLST forms can only be filled out by a physician, and if you do not have a physician, it won’t get filled out at all. Just make sure that you update your advance directive regularly and that the appointed people have always have updated copies. One of the tenants of bioethics is autonomy – the right to make independent choices. If you don’t make the decision yourself, someone else will make it for you. An advance directive gives a person control in a potentially grave situation where they wouldn’t otherwise have control.

Accidents and emergencies happen. The way I see it, giving the people you love a choice in tragedy is an amazing privilege. But we don’t live in fear and wait for tragedy to happen. We live. We love. We enjoy our families and friends. We eat that extra plate of macaroni and cheese, barbecue, and greens and don’t worry about our waistlines. The moment is important. So enjoy your plate and enjoy the moment. I know I will. Let me know what you gonna be eating in the comments below!

giphy (1)

Stuffing my face,

The Neighborhood Bioethicist




“POLST – Honoring the Wishes of Those with Serious Illness and Frailty.” Accessed April 12, 2017. http://polst.org/.

Span, Paula. “The Trouble With Advance Directives.” The New York Times, March 13, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/17/health/the-trouble-with-advance-directives.html.

———. “When Advance Directives Are Ignored.” The New Old Age Blog, 1403600419. https://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/when-advance-directives-are-ignored/.

“What Are Advance Directives? – CaringInfo.” Accessed April 12, 2017. http://www.caringinfo.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3285.


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