This post was written more than four years ago. The world changes fast, and the information, conclusions, or attributions may or may not still be accurate. Check the sources and links, and email me if you have any questions.

We’ve all heard stories of people being stuck in unfortunate health situations, and we often think that it will never happen to us.  In 2009, there were almost 31,000 fatal car crashes in the United States.  1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year. 18 people die every day due to a lack of available organs for transplant.  Someone needs blood in the United States every 2 seconds.  10,000 patients in the United States are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases for which a marrow transplant may be their best or only hope of a cure.

In 1990, Terri Schiavo collapsed in full cardiac arrest and suffered severe brain damage.  After over two months in a coma, her diagnosis was changed to reflect her being in a vegetative state.  In 1998, her husband petitioned the courts to remove her feeding tube following a series of failed physical and experimental therapy, but her parents opposed it, believing that she was conscious.  A series of court battles and appeals went up to the federal level, and George W. Bush signed legislation intended to keep her alive.  Finally, a federal court ordered her feeding tube removed, and she died 13 days later in March 2005 — just over 15 years of being in a vegetative state.

The easiest health improvements you’ll ever make: make legal arrangements in case of a health emergency and make the decision to share your gift of health with those in unfortunate situations.

The technicalities and process of doing this are complex, but I’ve included links to make the process easy. It’s important that you do it now for yourself and your family.

  • Make an Advance Healthcare Directive — it’s a legal document (also called a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare) that allows you to certify your wishes for healthcare treatment in the event that you are unable to make or communicate decisions for yourself.  Without an advance directive, your care provider has the obligation to do everything medically possible to prolong your life, even if the likely risks and burdens of treatment outweigh the expected benefits.  Even if to a realistic degree of medical certainty, you will not regain consciousness.  Caring Connections provides free advance directives and instructions for each state »
  • Create a Revocable Living Trust, Pour-over Will and Power of Attorney — you might need an attorney for this one, but should you die, a will determines where your assets and property will go. With a pourover will, anything not listed in your final will document will be distributed to your revocable living trust. Your revocable living trust is a separate document that allows you to easily have a trusted family member administer your estate should you become unable to do so or die.   If you’re in a state where your relationship isn’t legally recognized, a will can help end-of-life activities progress the way you want them to.  A Power of Attorney document enables a trusted family member to make even broader decisions on your behalf in case you’re unable to do so.  Suze Orman’s Will and Trust Kit can help you out, and it’s free with code ‘peoplefirst’ — register now »
  • Ensure you have adequate life insurance — if you have a family that depends on you, ensure that you have enough life insurance to meet their needs in the event if your unfortunate death.  If you’ve left college with student loans that parents have co-signed, if you die, they’ll still be responsible for the full amount of your loan.  A life insurance policy is cost-effective and can pay the costs of your funeral, settling your affairs, resolving debts and ensuring your loved ones have enough money to survive without your income.  Your home or auto insurance provider can help.
  • Donate blood — donating blood is a easy, fast and safe process for those eligible.  The most simple option is to visit a local non-profit blood donation center to make a regular whole blood donation.  After filling out a short form, your vitals will be taken and the draw will start.  It takes about 30-45 minutes and they load you up with snacks and juice when you’re done.  You’ll also leave knowing your vitals (resting heart rate, blood iron level, blood pressure, etc.), and your blood is tested for Chagas, Hepatatis B and C, HIV, HTLV, Syphilis, the West Nile virus.  The American Red Cross has all the information you need »
  • Register as an organ donor — you’re not going to need your organs after you die, so why not make the choice to donate life to someone else?  It’s often as easy as checking a box on your Driver’s License application, but the Department of Health and Human Services has information for each state »
  • Register with the National Marrow Donor Program — they’ll send you a set of cotton swabs in the mail.  Just follow the instructions by rubbing them along your cheek, and mail it back.  You’ll be contacted if you’re a match for someone in need.  Register now »

Taking these actions requires so little time but gives you the confidence in knowing that you’re saving lives while you’re alive, you’re potentially saving even more lives after you die, your end-of-life decisions will be respected and honored, and should you pass away, your family will be financially secure. Make the decision to be a better person!

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Not legal advice.