Living Wills and Advance Directives

Advanced DirectiveAn Advance Health Care Directive, also known as a Living Will or Advance Directive — not “Advanced Directive“, as this implies that it is a complicated estate planning tool — is a way to express your health care desires in the event that you are incapacitated.

Most commonly, a living will specifies whether you want your life prolonged by artificial means, such as with breathing apparatuses or feeding tubes. The advance directive may either be general, such as stating that no artificial means should be employed if the physician determines that your condition is terminal, or more specific, describing exact procedures you authorize in particular circumstances. For instance, you might wish to approve the use of pain relievers and antibiotics while also restricting the use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

An advance health care directive may also include a medical power of attorney or health care proxy. You may appoint an individual to act on your behalf in approving or denying the use of certain medical procedures.

Your living will and health care proxy only come into force when you are unable to consent to medical treatment yourself, such as when you are unconscious or comatose. If you are conscious, the documents have no effect.

When selecting a health care proxy, ensure that the individual understands your wishes and will make decisions in accordance with your desire. It is important that the person is someone you can trust to make difficult decisions including withholding medical treatments that are keeping you alive.

Your proxy should have a copy of your entire advance health care directive. You should also provide copies to your primary care physician, hospital if applicable, assisted living facility if applicable, and close family members. Be open and direct in your conversations with friends and family about your wishes; this will help minimize conflict when an important decision must be made.

Many hospitals have forms on hand to assist you in preparing an advance directive. Speak with your doctor and attorney when crafting this document.