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Letter: April 16 is National Healthcare Decision Day -- time to make out that living will

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History will be made April 16, 2008. Approximately 50 of the most prominent national healthcare, religious, and legal associations and organizations, as well as countless others, will participate in the inaugural National Healthcare Decisions Day. The goal of this nationwide initiative is to ensure that American adults have both the information and the opportunity to communicate and document their future healthcare decisions.

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While making healthcare decisions is often difficult in the best of circumstances, making decisions for others is even more complicated.

As Terri Schiavo's situation vividly revealed, having an advance directive can be valuable for all adults, regardless of current age or health status. Yet, fewer than 25 percent of all Americans have one. For an action that can be done without a lawyer, for free, and relatively easily, this figure is astonishingly low.

In recognition of this, National Healthcare Decisions Day strives to provide much-needed information to the public, reduce the number of tragedies that occur when a person's wishes are unknown, and improve the ability of healthcare facilities and providers to offer informed and thoughtful guidance about advance healthcare planning to their patients.

At Hospice of the Red River Valley, we regularly see the blessings and agony that can result from good -- and absent -- healthcare planning. This issue, however, is not just for older people or someone near death! There are countless circumstances in which any of us could be unable, at least for a time, to speak for ourselves regarding our healthcare preferences. I was gratified, in fact, when -- very coincidentally -- my 27-year-old son recently asked if I could get him advance directives forms. His grandparents did this for us; I kept my promise and did it for him, and now he is doing the same for me. What a gift!

Hospice of the Red River Valley joins our colleagues in urging you to complete an advance directive for healthcare. Free information is readily available at www.nationalhealthcaredecisionsday.org, at our website -- www. hrrv.org -- or at most health care facilities and legal offices.

Who will speak for you, if you can't speak for yourself? Please use April 16 to decide, discuss and document your wishes, whatever they may be. -- Susan Fuglie, Executive Director, Hospice of the Red River Valley

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