Advance Directives – Living Wills

How to ensure that your wishes are respected in case you are not able to look after yourself due to an illness or accident.

Advance directives allow people to explain their preferences in relation to the type of medical treatment they are willing to undergo (or want to avoid) in case they lose the ability to make decisions or communicate due to an illness or accident.

The living will and the durable power of attorney are the two different kinds of advance directives. Both of these are written, legal documents. You may require a lawyer or you can create one yourself. Different states use different types of forms. You can make alterations in the document or cancel it any time you want.

Using a living will, you put into writing all your preferences regarding your treatment and care. You can let others know of your decisions about feeding tubes, receiving cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of a respirator to keep you alive.

If you are unable to make decisions on your own, you can choose a durable power of attorney to allow another person to take decisions on your behalf. A durable power of attorney may declare: If, due to some illness or accident, I am unable to make decisions regarding my healthcare, I want a surrogate to decide on my behalf. Usually, but not always, the surrogate (or agent) is a family member.

The best way to go about it is to have both a living will and a durable power of attorney. Moreover, you need to be very specific when you are writing a living will. It will make it easier for the individual whom you choose as your surrogate to take care of all your wishes.

The Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA) was enacted by the Congress in 1990. The law focuses on the need to inform patients about their rights to plan and prepare advance health-care directives.

Even when you have good overall health, you need to talk about care directives and end-of-life treatment with your spouse, other family members, your doctor, nurse or clergy. If you prepare advance directives based on the discussions, it will benefit all, especially at times when critical decisions need to be made.

Although more people have started using advance directives these days, some people still tend to avoid it due to a disturbing misconception. The perception amongst these people is that they will be denied medical care in case their will says that they do not want to receive life-sustaining treatment. However, this is not true. You will receive complete medical care, as required.