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Now is the Time to Complete a Health Care Directive

By Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference
April 2020

The North Dakota Catholic Conference urges everyone to have a health care directive, especially during these difficult and uncertain times.

A health care directive, also known as an advance directive, allows you to state who would make health care decisions for you and what you would like done if you cannot speak for yourself. A health care directive, especially one that conforms to Catholic teaching, is the best way to ensure that your wishes are respected and that your physical and spiritual care reflects Catholic teaching.

To repeat, everyone should have a health care directive. They are not just for people who are nearing death, sick, or old. Anyone of any age and condition could become unable to speak for themselves, even if if the inability is temporary. Moreover, the best time to have discussions with your loved ones about your care is before you are nearing death, sick, or old.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference has a
Catholic health care directive and has provided guidance on the use of health care directives for many years. Several months before the COVID-19 virus hit our country, the conference started work to update and improve our health care directive outreach. We completely redesigned North Dakota Catholic Conference’s website on health care directives from top to bottom. The questions and answers received an update.

Most importantly, the directives themselves were redesigned to fit on to letter-size sheets. The prior version was legal-size. The reformatted directive now consists of three pages rather than two, but it has two distinct advantages. First, it is now easier for the average person to download and print at home. Second, it is easier for your health care provider to electronically scan and make it part of your medical file. If you already have a health care directive from the North Dakota Catholic Conference completed on the legal-size paper, do not worry. It is still valid.

The new website and directive size were ready to launch when the virus hit. Suddenly the completion of health care directives became more timely than ever.

The pandemic, with its resulting stay-at-home practices, might also have provided the best opportunity to complete a health care directive. A health care directive serves many purposes. It provides some legal protection to health care providers when issuing orders based on the directive or a health care agent’s instructions. It respects a person’s right to determine their care. It expedites decision-making during critical times.

The greatest advantage of a health care directive, however, is the peace of mind that preparing one can provide. The discussions among family members, loved ones, and friends about what should happen and who should make decisions eliminates fears, conflicts, and anxieties. During this time of social distancing and spending more time at home is a good time to talk about and complete a health care directive. Do not wait until you are admitted to a hospital.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference has health care directives available for download at: Catholic and non-Catholic Christian versions are available.

The conference will also mail hard copies of the directives to anyone free of charge. Persons wanting hard copies can
order online or contact our office at 701-223-2519.

North Dakota law requires a health care directive to be either witnessed by two individuals or notarized. Neither the notary nor the witness may be: a person you designate as your agent or alternate agent; your spouse; a person related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption; a person entitled to inherit any part of your estate upon your death; or person who has, at the time of executing this document, any claim against your estate.

These requirements provide protection to you. However, they pose some challenges during this time of emergency. It might be near impossible to find or be near impartial witnesses or notary publics. Although hospitals usually have notaries on staff, many are not on location during this pandemic.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference is working with Governor Burgum’s office, the Secretary of State, the North Dakota Hospital Association, and others to resolve this problem. In the meantime, complete the form as much as possible and discuss it with your loved ones. Take the form with you if you are hospitalized, even if it is missing some signatures. Even if a notary public is not immediately available, hospitals will work with you to try to get your form officiated.

The options for getting a health care directive notarized may change during this emergency.
Please contact the North Dakota Catholic Conference with any questions and for the latest information.

What We Do

The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.
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