Advanced Directives

What are advance directives?

These are a set of written instructions specifying a person’s wishes regarding medical care and treatment. It also allows a person to appoint a health care representative to make medical care decisions, if the person is unable to act. Advance directives consist of (1) a living will and (2) a medical (healthcare) power of attorney. These documents need to be properly witness by two witnesses.

Who needs an advance directive?

Everyone over the age of 18 needs an advance directive because we all need to tell people who we’d like to make decisions for us if there is a healthcare emergency.

What is a living will?

A living will describes your wishes regarding medical care if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. These wishes pertain to situations such as the following:

(1) If I am close to death and life support would only postpone the moment of my death.

(2) If I am unconscious and it is very unlikely that I will ever become conscious again.

(3) If I have a progressive illness that will be fatal and the illness is in an advanced stage, and I am consistently and permanently unable to communicate by any means, swallow food and water safely, care for myself and recognize my family and other people, and it is very unlikely that my condition will substantially improve.

(4) If life support would not help my medical condition and would make me suffer permanent and severe pain.

What is a medical power of attorney?

A medical power of attorney is the advance directive that allows you to select a person you trust to make decisions about your medical care if you are temporarily or permanently unable to communicate and make decisions for yourself. This includes not only decisions at the end of your life, but also in other medical situations. This document is also known as a “healthcare proxy,” “appointment of health care agent” or “durable power of attorney for healthcare.”

Who should I select to be my medical power of attorney?

You should select someone you trust, such as a close family member or good friend who understands your wishes and feels comfortable making healthcare decisions for you. You should have ongoing conversations with this person to talk about your wishes at the end of life. Make sure your medical power of attorney feels comfortable and confident about the type of medical care you want to receive. Most state laws prevent your doctor or any professional caregiver from being assigned as your healthcare agent. You can also select a second agent as an alternate in case your first healthcare agent is unwilling or unable to serve. The person you select can also be known as a healthcare agent, surrogate, attorney-in-fact or healthcare proxy.