Advance Care Planning: What Happens If You Can't Speak for Yourself?


Please join us on Wednesday, April 17, 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. for “Say it Out Loud: Who’s Your Person? What’s Your Plan?,” featuring a TED Talk Screening and panel discussion about advance care planning. The session will also include an opportunity to discuss the process and tools for medical decision making in Vermont. To learn more and register, click here. 



Did you know that in Vermont it is not automatically your next of kin who makes medical decisions for you if you become unable to speak for yourself? Have you heard the term ‘advance care planning’ but thought it was only for an older population?

No one likes to think about being ill or injured, yet it can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of age or health status. Who should your doctors speak with if you are unable to speak for yourself? What would be most important to you if your recovery would not include a return of health as you knew it? The best quality health care includes making choices centered on your goals and values, and advance care planning documents can help.

Join us for a screening of What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death, a short TED Talk featuring Lucy Kalanithi (widow of Paul Kalanithi, author of When Breath Becomes Air), followed by a panel discussion and opportunity to have your questions answered regarding medical decision-making in Vermont. Lucy’s TED Talk encourages us all to “say it out loud” by having conversations with loved ones about what’s most important to us and documenting those wishes while we still can.

This event will help to clarify how advance directives are used to ensure patients receive the care they would most value and will shed light on the documents available, which one is right for you, and how to register them. Trained volunteers will be available to answer any questions you may have about the medical decision-making process, assist you in completing documents, and/or witness any documents you may have already completed.

This event is sponsored by “Taking Steps Vermont: Who’s Your Person… What’s Your Plan?” a collective impact initiative of ten local organizations in Chittenden and Grand Isle counties working to educate the community about a stepwise approach to advance care planning, in particular, the importance of choosing someone to speak on your behalf if you are too sick or injured to communicate for yourself.

To clarify these terms:

  • Advance care planning is a process to help you, in advance of injury, serious illness, or catastrophic event think about and plan for future medical decisions should you become unable to speak for yourself.  It allows you to communicate in advance about what matters most, and the kind of treatment you would or would not want if you were injured, seriously ill or dying.
  • A health care agent is someone you choose to make medical decisions if you are unable to speak for yourself. It can be your spouse, parent, sibling, friend, neighbor, or anyone else you trust.

Studies show that advance care planning leads to:

  • Less emotional distress for patients, families, and providers
  • Less conflict between healthcare professionals
  • Less use of significant healthcare resources due to prolonged decision-making and therefore lower health care spending
  • Less moral uncertainty about choices that are made
  • Increase in quality, patient-centered care

For more information about how to appoint a health care agent or document your preferences, please visit


Our collective impact partners are Age Well, Bayada Hospice, Cathedral Square, Community Health Centers of Burlington, Howard Center, OneCare Vermont, Support and Services at Home (SASH), The University of Vermont Health Network Home Health & Hospice, The University of Vermont Medical Center, and Vermont Ethics Network. Our thanks to the University of Vermont Medical Center Community Health Investment Committee for generously funding this project.

The Community Health Investment Fund at the UVM Medical Center supports a wide range of community programs and initiatives that improve the health of our community. The fund is overseen by the Community Health Investment Committee, which includes six UVM Medical Center employees and six community members and is chaired by the UVM Medical Center’s Chief Officer. We invest $800,000 annually in efforts that further, the priority areas identified in the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Needs Assessment. To date, we have supported 23 programs at 19 organizations across our service area in our current fiscal year. The 2017-2019 priority areas are Access to Healthy Food, Chronic Conditions, Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Supportive Housing.

 Stay Informed

Sign up to receive the latest stories, information and guidance from our experts on a wide variety of health topics.