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Advance Directive For Healthcare

Everyone has the right to make personal decisions about health care. Doctors ask whether you will accept a treatment by discussing the risks and benefits and working with you to decide. But what if you can no longer make your own decisions?


Anyone can wind up hurt or sick and unable to make decisions about medical treatments. An advance directive speaks for you if you are unable to and helps make sure your religious and personal beliefs will be respected. It's a useful legal document for an adult of any age to plan for future health care needs. While no one is required to have an advance directive, it's smart to think ahead and plan now. If you don't have an advance directive—and later, you can't speak for yourself—usually your next of kin will then make health care decisions for you. But even if you want your next of kin to make decisions for you, an advance directive can make things easier for your loved ones by helping to prevent misunderstandings or arguments about your care.


What can you do in an advance directive?

An advance directive allows you to decide who you want to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. You can also use it to say what kinds of treatments you do or don't want, especially the treatments often used in a medical emergency or near the end of a person's life.


Health Care Agent: Someone you name to make decisions about your health care is called a “health care agent" (sometimes also called a “durable power of attorney for health care," but, unlike other powers of attorney, this is not about money). You can name a family member or someone else. This person has the authority to see that doctors and other health care providers give you the type of care you want, and that they do not give you treatment against your wishes. Pick someone you trust to make these kinds of serious decisions and talk to this person, to make sure they understand and is willing to accept this responsibility.


Health Care Instructions/Living Will: You can let providers know what treatments you want to have or don't want to have. (Sometimes this is called a “living will," but it has nothing to do with an ordinary will about property.) Examples of the types of treatment you might decide about are:


a. Life support, such as breathing with a ventilator

b. Efforts to revive a stopped heart or breathing (CPR)

c. Feeding through tubes inserted into the body

d. Medicine for pain relief


Ask your doctor for more information about these treatments. Think about how, if you become badly injured or seriously ill, treatments like these fit in with your goals, beliefs, and values.


When would your advance directive take effect?

Usually,​ your advance directive would take effect when your doctor certifies in writing that you are not capable of deciding about your care. If your advance directive contains health care instructions, they will take effect depending on your medical condition at the time. If you name a health care agent, you should make clear in the advance directive when you want the agent to be able to make decisions for you.


Can you change your advance directive?

Yes, you can change or take back your advance directive at any time. The most recent one will count.


To learn more about this, click here.