Life is to be enjoyed and the thought that we may one day face a sudden health crisis due to an accident or serious illness can be very scary. What if you are unable to make your own medical decisions? Who will make these decisions for you? Will they make the same choices you would make? Fortunately, there is a legal means to addressing this potential future concern — it’s called an Advance Directive.
An Advance Directive is a written statement that you complete in advance of a serious illness. Within this document you will name someone to act on your behalf or you will outline how you want medical decisions to be made when you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself.
There are several advantages to communicating your wishes about treatment. You will have the opportunity to make very personal health care decisions. You will prevent arguments and you will spare loved ones from the anxiety of having to guess your wishes.
There are two types of Advance Directives and it is important to have both kinds.
1) LIVING WILL: This document specifically spells out what types of treatment you want at the end of your life or if you are unable to speak for yourself. It may include decisions about:
• The use of Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops or if you stop breathing. Do you want extraordinary measures taken or do you prefer a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR) which is a request not to have CPR?
• The use of breathing machines (mechanical ventilation) and/or dialysis
• Sustainment by tube feeding
• Organ and tissue donation preferences
2) HEALTH CARE POWER OF ATTORNEY: This document appoints someone to make health decisions if you can’t communicate on your own. The person you designate as your Health Care Power of Attorney, also known as a Health Care Proxy, is your advocate, not only concerning life-prolonging treatments, but also for other medical treatments. This is different from a regular Durable Power of Attorney which covers financial matters.
Your Health Care Power of Attorney should be someone who knows you well and someone who is willing to carry out your directions regardless of personal feelings or influence of family and friends. An alternative Health Care Power of Attorney should also be named.
Advance Directive forms may vary slightly from state to state. State-specific forms are available on the AARP website. Your physician should also have these forms available for you to complete.
Copies of Advance Directive forms should be kept by your Health Care Proxy and given to your physician to become part of your medical record.
You can change or cancel your Advance Directives at any time, if you are considered of sound mind. These changes should be signed and notarized. Inform your doctor and family members that you have made changes to these directives.
SUSAN LOCKE is Healthnetwork Foundation’s medical director.
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