The importance of advance directives in end-of-life care cannot be understated. Advance directives, simply put, are healthcare decisions you make today that are put into action in an end-of-life situation. A living will, designating a healthcare agent and recording any other wishes you would like to have carried out regarding your medical care if you are unable to communicate are all vital advance directives.
Since life changing events can happen at any time, adults 18 years old or older should have advance directives properly written, recorded and distributed to the appropriate people and places. There have been well known cases where individuals have had no advance directives in place, which resulted in care inconsistant to their wishes and family feuding.
Your Living Will
Having a living will in place allows your loved ones to know how you would like your medical care to proceed at the end of your life. In order for a living will to be the guide for medical decision making, two physicians must confirm:
- You are no longer able to make decisions regarding your medical care
- You are in the medical condition stated in your living will, such as “terminal illness” or “permanent unconsciousness”
- Other requirements per your state are met
Designating a Healthcare Agent
A healthcare agent, or surrogate decision maker, is someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. They are appointed by completing a durable power of attorney for healthcare (healthcare proxy).
In order for a durable medical power of attorney to begin, two physicians must come to the conclusion that you are unable to understand or are unable to communicate decisions regarding your medical care. Additional items regarding healthcare agents:
- If you regain your decision making ability, your designated healthcare agent will not be able to continue to act on your behalf.
- There may be certain requirements in your state pertaining to decisions about life-sustaining medical treatments. For example, before your healthcare agent can refuse a life-sustaining medical treatment on your behalf, a second doctor may have to confirm your doctor’s conclusion that you are unable to make your own medical decisions.
By putting advance directives in place you are benefitting your family and yourself. You are directing your own healthcare, as well as preventing your family from being in the difficult position of making tough choices during an emotional time.
The following are resources to help you and your family get started in establishing your advance directives: