What are Advance Directives and why are they important?

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What are Advance Directives and why are they important?

Advance directives are legal documents that specify your end of life wishes regarding your health care. Typically they include a living will and a medical power of attorney (or health care proxy). Laws about them vary from state to state.

These legal documents are not just for the elderly or very ill. In fact, the younger you are, the more you may have at stake. A serious accident or injury could leave you unable to make such decisions.

What is a living will?

This legal document identifies the type of medical treatments or life-sustaining treatments you would or would not want at the end of life.

It is a good idea to take time to learn about current life-sustaining treatments to help you decide which one(s) you would or would not allow.

What is a medical power of attorney?

This is another legal document that identifies the person you designate to make critical health decisions if you are unable to. It becomes active when you are not able to make medical decisions for yourself. Your medical POA should be a close friend or relative that you know well and trust.  This should also be someone with whom you have been able to candidly discuss your end of life wishes.

What is a DNR?

DNR stands for “Do Not Resuscitate.” Unless given other instructions, hospital staff will attempt to revive a patient whose heart has stopped or who has stopped breathing. If you do not wish to be given these procedures, you may ask your physician to note DNR in your medical chart.

Who should have copies of these documents?

These should be shared with your physician and loved ones.

Having an advance directive spares your family the stress of having to make these medical decisions about your care.

Until such time as these can be linked to your Electronic Health Records, it is best to make sure your doctor and family members know that these documents exist and where to find them.

The American Bar Association has developed the My Health Care Wishes app, a way you can carry your health care wishes with you on your Smartphone.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Advance directives do not apply to emergency medical personnel. Once called, their purpose is to stabilize that person for transport to a hospital. Advance directives can only be implemented after a physician evaluates that person’s condition.

Advance directives vary from state to state and may have different titles. Make sure yours will be honored wherever you spend the most time.

They don’t expire, but remain in effect until you make a change. A revised advance directive overrides any previous ones. Review these papers periodically to make sure they reflect your wishes. If you want to make changes, be sure to complete a new document.

With advance directives you do not give up control over your medical treatment; you gain control over your health care. As long as you are able to make and communicate decisions, your words override any written documents. It’s only when you are unable to make your wishes known that any advance directive goes into effect.

The AARP website provides a drop-down menu containing these forms for each state.


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