Any person 18 years of age or older can prepare an advance directive, which is a legal document that allows you to plan and make your own medical treatment and end-of-life wishes known in the event that you are unable to communicate.
There are two main types of advance directives:
- A living will tells your family and your doctor what kinds of treatment you want to receive as you near the end of your life and if you can no longer speak for yourself. A living will is also called a treatment directive.
- A durable power of attorney for health care lets you name a person to make medical treatment decisions for you when you can't speak for yourself. This person is called a health care agent or health care proxy.
As long as you can still make your own decisions, your advance directive won't be used. You can stop or say no to treatment at any time.
As you prepare your advance directive, you'll need to follow these four important steps:
- Get the living will and medical power of attorney forms for your state, or use a universal form that has been approved by many states. In general, doctors will respect your wishes even if you have a form from a different state.
- Choose your health care agent. This should be a person you trust to make decisions for you.
- Fill out the forms, and have them witnessed as your state requires.
- Give copies to your family, your doctor, and your health care agent.
You can get the forms in a doctor's office, hospital, law office, state or local office for the aging, senior center, nursing home or online. You can also find documents on the Lawrence Memorial Hospital website at lmh.org under Forms and Policies for patients.
When you write your advance directive, think about the kinds of treatments that you do or don't want to receive if you get seriously hurt or ill. Consider whether you want to:
- Receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops.
- Be on a machine that pumps air into your lungs through a tube if you can't breathe on your own.
- Be on a machine that cleans your blood if your kidneys stop working.
- Be fed or get fluids through a tube if you can't eat or drink.
- Take medicines to treat serious infections.
These are tough choices to make, but you don't have to make them alone. Take your time. Share your questions or concerns about what to include in your advance directive with your doctor or nurse, your lawyer, your family or a friend.
If you want to change what is in your advance directive, you can change or cancel it at any time. Fill out new forms and get rid of your existing forms and let your family, your doctor and your health care agent know about the change and give everyone an updated copy. Don't just cross out or add new information unless it's only to change your address or phone number.
By creating a living will or naming a durable power of attorney, you are making your preferences about medical care known before you’re faced with a serious injury or illness. This will spare your loved ones the stress of making decisions about your care if you become sick.
If you would like more information on advance directives, visit Kansas City’s Center for Practical Bioethics at practicalbioethics.org, the National Healthcare Decisions Day website at nhdd.org the Lawrence Area Coalition to Honor End of Life Choices (CHEC) website at lawrenceareachec.org, or the Lawrence Memorial Hospital website at lmh.org.
— Janice Early is vice president of marketing and communications for Lawrence Memorial Hospital, which is a major sponsor of WellCommons.