Avoiding Life Support – Advanced Directive Q&A

End Of Life Planning – The Advanced Directive

Q. “I hear of stories about people who are in a coma on life support equipment for months and even years. Can I do anything to make sure that does not happen to me?”

A. Problems with health care decisions often arise when a person has not made end-of- life planning (through a Living Will or what is called a Health Care Directive) and then that person loses mental capacity and is unable to make decisions about his or her own care. In these situations, family members are often called upon to make intensely personal decisions which can impact a loved one’s length and qualify of life.

Planning Ahead

If you have planned ahead, your family will understand your wishes and will not have to guess as to what treatments you want or do not want. You may set out your wishes concerning life-prolonging medical care through the use of “advance directives”. Of course, if you become seriously ill, you will consult with your doctor about appropriate care and your doctor follow your instructions. Any advance directives that you prepared will not come into play until you become physically or mentally incapacitated. How do I make “advance directives” regarding life support? You will need two basic documents.

Healthcare Directives (Declarations-Living Trusts)

States differ on what they call this type of legal document: Some states call it a Healthcare Directive, other states refer to it as an End-of-Life Declaration or Living Trust. No matter what you call it, its intent is to create a legal written document which is directed to medical providers spelling out the medical care you do and do not wish to receive if you become incapacitated and are unable to speak for yourself. Some people want to make sure that they will die with dignity and are adamant about not having their life prolonged by artificial means when there is little hope of recovery.

Extraordinary Measures To Be Kept Alive – Issues of Pain Managemnt

Others want even extraordinary measures to be taken if there is any possibility of recovery. Yet this measure will usually involve issues of pain management. It’s advisable to speak with your doctor before preparing this declaration.

Durable Power of Attorney

The second document you will need is a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions. This is often used in cases involving patients that lose their mental capacity to make informed decisions because of the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Like its counterpart for dealing with property, this power of attorney names someone else – your agent or attorney-in-fact to make the healthcare decisions you would have made, had you not become incapacitated. While the agent you name must carry out your wishes as expressed in your directive, situations might arise that are not clearly covered by your directive.

Importance Of Having An Informed Power of Attorney – Someone Who Knows Truly Knows You

Therefore, your health care agent needs to be in a good position to exercise judgment for you, and thus should have a solid grasp of your attitudes on death and dying, religious beliefs, and your feelings about the quality of life you would find acceptable. You should have a serious conversation with the person you want to name as your agent. As long as you remain competent, you can revoke or change your advance directives regarding health care at any time.

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