No one likes to imagine themselves being struck down by an accident or sudden medical condition. But the reality is that, if it happens and you become incapacitated, medical decision could be made that you would not agree with. The answer to this problem is an advance directive.
What is the purpose of an advance directive?
An advance medical directive is a document prepared in advance of an episode that leaves you incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. It allows you to express your wishes as to procedures or treatments you do or do not want to receive, and the circumstances under which would or would not want to receive them. The directive goes into effect when medical personnel determine that you are incapacitated and either dying or permanently unconscious.
A living will allows you to express your desires toward your physician. Life-sustaining efforts such as being placed on a ventilator or being artificially fed are common issues addressed in a living will. The living will lets you choose whether to receive these types of treatments and your physician is bound by that choice.
You may revoke or modify a living will at any time. Once completed, you should inform your loved ones that you have a living will. It’s also a good idea to add a copy of it to your medical record. In the absence of any directive, health-care decisions fall to immediate family members.
Appoint a proxy
A health-care proxy is an individual you choose to make medical decisions for you, when you are unable to do so yourself. Their role is to choose what life-sustaining procedures you do or do not receive, based upon the wishes you have previously expressed. Appointing a proxy can be done in a living will, so that you can both express your wishes in writing and have someone designated to ensure those wishes are followed.
Separate from a living will, you can appoint a proxy with a durable power of attorney. If you have both a living will and have appointed a proxy with a durable power of attorney, make sure the directives are consistent – it will help to avoid confusion should the worst come to pass.