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Medical Advance Directives: Understanding the Different Types
There is no one who wants to think they may be incapacitated by illness or trauma. It happens to people every day, unfortunately. With this knowledge, many people like to prepare in advance for the kind of treatment they want in the event of cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, stroke, and brain death. Some people would allow doctors to perform “heroic measures,” and others would rather die without significant medical intervention. Medical advance directives are legal documents that outline the details of your advance healthcare planning.
There are a few types of medical advance directives. A durable power of attorney names a person to act as your healthcare proxy or surrogate who can make medical decisions and follow those outlined in your living will if you are incapacitated. A living will tells medical professionals when they should and should not use certain interventions, like intubation, CPR, and IV nutrition. A living will only pertains to saving a life, but a power of attorney can make any decision. For example, if a person is unconscious but not in peril of death, a power of attorney could consent to minor medical treatment that is not life-threatening.
What Happens without Medical Advance Directives
Of course, many people without advance directives get into car crashes or have other accidents and need someone to make medical decisions for them. Without an advance directive, the state relies on a legal hierarchy of next of kin. Legal guardians make decisions for minors and adults with a conservatorship. The state usually recognizes a spouse or domestic partner as the next of kin for most adults. Without a spouse, the responsibility often goes to an adult child, sibling, or parent. For many people, this system works well.
The legal hierarchy presents major problems for others. Sometimes people remain legally married to someone who no longer represents their best interests. At other times your next of kin does not share the same values and would not make the right choices for you. Sometimes, you feel more aligned with a person who is a friend instead. In all of these situations, having an advance directive helps ensure that the medical decisions made on your behalf are the same or similar to those you would make for yourself if you were able.
Items to include in a Living Will
Your power of attorney can express end-of-life wishes that address the use or withdrawal of specific treatments. Likewise, some people may want to plan certain end-of-life decisions while they are still healthy. You can specify the types of medical treatment desired, such as:
- Pain relief (analgesia)
- Intravenous hydration
- Artificial feeding (feeding tube)
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
- Do not resuscitate orders (DNR)
Of course, addressing every possible scenario is impossible, but try to be explicit about your instructions for common life and death scenarios.
Items to Discuss with your Healthcare Proxy or Surrogate
Your power of attorney for medical advance directives affords the same rights to request or refuse medical treatment to the surrogate as if the individual at risk were capable of making and communicating decisions. With this in mind, you want to choose someone you trust and who shares your values. You also want to make your desires clear to that person so they can carry out your wishes. For example, let them know if you strongly oppose donating organs, having a blood transfusion, or certain hospital visitors. Explain your decision-making process to them so they can use that reasoning to figure out what you would want.
Creating Advance Directives
As advance directives are legal documents, lawyers are most effective at writing and reviewing them to reflect your wishes and hold up in court. Something is always better than nothing, so start with the basics and add details as they arise. An estate planning or elder law attorney can help create and review your advance directives. As experts in this area, we know the right questions to ask. We will listen to your wishes and help guide you in making important decisions about your care. If you’d like to discuss your particular situation, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact our office at 877-903-7828 and schedule a consultation.