Advance Medical Directives

What are Advance Medical Directives?

These documents could be a living will or a durable power of attorney for health care (also called a health-care proxy). They allow you to give directions about your future medical care. Having an advance directive is good for everyone young or old, since accidents and illness can strike at any time. It’s your right to accept or refuse medical care. Advance directives can protect this right if you become mentally or physically unable to choose or tell someone your wishes.

Deciding What You Want

Before making an advance directive, think about what’s important to you. How would keeping or losing the ability to do things you value affect your choice of treatment? Find out about all the treatments open to you. Then you can decide the level of care that you would want. Advance directives can help you protect your right to make medical choices, help your family avoid the stress of making hard decisions and help your doctor by giving him/her guidelines for your care.

Recording Your Wishes

Once you know what level of medical care you want, you can protect your wishes by putting them in writing. With an advanced directive, you can name someone else to make medical choices for you (durable power of attorney for health care) or you can state the treatments you’d choose or not choose (living will). A sample of a living will, healthcare proxy and optional organ and tissue donation form can be found here.

Be Clear About What's Important to You

Think about what’s important to you in life. This is the first step in deciding what medical care you’d want if you were near death. Answer the questions below and talk about the answers with family and friends...
  • How much do you value being able to do things on your own?
  • How much do you value physical activity?
  • What do you fear most about being ill or injured?
  • Is it important for you to be physically, mentally or financially independent?
  • How would you feel if you could no longer do things that you enjoy?
  • How would you feel about being moved from your home?
  • How would you feel about being cared for in a hospital or nursing home at the end of your life?

Advance directives can limit life-prolonging measures when there is little or no chance of recovery.

You may decide not to be put in the hospital if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. You may decide against any treatments that will not cure you. Advance directives can help you make known your feelings about:

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
  • Intravenous (IV) Therapy
  • Feeding Tubes
  • Ventilators (Artificial Breathing)

Questions and Answers About Advance Directives:

Who is qualified to make an advance directive?

  • a patient who can make decisions and understand the impact of that decision on treatment
  • an adult age 18 or older
  • an emancipated minor

An advance directive will be honored if:

  • the patient is 18 years of age or older
  • the patient has declared his wishes or appointed a health care proxy
  • a doctor has diagnosed a terminal condition or a permanently unconscious state

What if I change my mind?

  • You can change or cancel your advance directive at any time.  Make sure you tell your doctors, health care workers, hospital and friends that your wishes have changed.  Ask them to tear up and destroy old copies.

What can be done if my wishes are not being carried out?

  • You should talk with your doctor first.  If it is not resolved at this point, talk with the nurse, social workers and/or chaplain.

How do I Create Advance Directives?

What do I do with my Advance Directive (Living Will and/or Healthcare Power of Attorney)?

  • Keep a card in your walletstating that you have advance directives and where to find the documents.
  • Give your doctor a copy to be kept as part of your medical record. If you use a durable power of attorney for healthcare, be sure to give a copy to the person who will be making decisions for you.
  • Talk about your advanced directive with your family and friends. Give a copy to a relative orfriend who might be called in an emergency.
  • Review your advanced directives regularly and make changes as needed. Tell your doctor, family and friends about any changes you make.