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What are Advance Directives and Why Are They Important?

November 29, 2017 | By Kristen Printy
Published in: General

A woman escorting her mother to a doctor appointment at a hospital

What happens if you experience a catastrophic accident or illness that leaves you unconscious or unable to communicate? How do you make sure your wishes about your medical care are known? Having an advance directive is the answer.

By planning in advance, you can get the medical care you desire while relieving loved ones of making major medical decisions during moments of grief or crisis. Advance directives help reduce confusion and disagreements about medical care.

Many people think advance directives are only for the elderly. However, unexpected end-of-life situations can happen to anyone at any age. It's important for everyone to prepare an advance directive. There are two kinds of advance directives:

A Living Will

Living wills are legal documents. They state your wishes regarding the care you want to receive if you are incapacitated.

When you create a living will consider the importance you place on being self-sufficient and independent. You'll need to decide what medical interventions are acceptable and whether you want your life extended if there is no hope of recovery.

A living will typically covers situations involving:

  • Resuscitation
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Tube feeding
  • Dialysis
  • Comfort care
  • Organ and tissue donation
  • Donating your body for scientific reasons

Medical Power of Attorney

Make your healthcare wishes knownA medical power of attorney is also known as a health care proxy. This option allows you to name another person, such as your spouse or adult child, to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so. A medical power of attorney is not the same as a power of attorney that allows another person to handle your financial or legal affairs.

Choosing the right person to act on your behalf regarding important medical decisions is vital. Even if you have other documents covering aspects of your care, not every situation can be anticipated. The person you choose to represent you should meet the following criteria:

  • Willing to discuss medical care and end-of-life issues
  • Ready to adhere to your wishes and values
  • Able to be your advocate if disagreements over your care arises

Important Points to Remember About Advance DirectivesDon't let others make important medical decisions for you.

  • States regulate advance directives differently. Having an attorney to prepare your advance directive is a wise choice.
  • Advance directives can be modified, updated, and canceled in accordance with state law.
  • Individuals with residences in multiple states may wish to have advance directives in each state.
  • Ensure your health care proxy has updated copies of your advance directive.
  • Give your advance directive to your doctor and other relevant medical care providers.

Advance directives are an important part of health care. No one can predict when unexpected medical situations will happen. An advance directive helps loved ones, and medical personnel make important decisions during a crisis. Having an advance directive in place ensures that your wishes regarding your health care are carried out, even when you're unable to make your wishes known.

Augusta Health can give you more information about creating an Advance Directive. Read on to learn about specific medical treatments, get forms, or who to contact for help.