Advance Directives

Advance directives are legal documents that allow you to give directions for your future medical care. It's your right to accept or refuse medical care. Advance directives help protect this right. They help make your choices known if you become physically or mentally unable to do so yourself.

Advance directives are valuable tools. They can help your family by freeing them of the responsibility and stress of having to make difficult decisions for you. They can help your health care provider by giving directions for your care.

Advance directives help protect your rights in the event of irreversible brain damage, permanent coma or other unconscious states or terminal illness.

There are two types of advance directives. Living wills are written instructions that explain your wishes for health care if you have terminal condition or irreversible coma and are unable to communicate. Durable power of attorney for health care, sometimes called a “health care proxy”, is a document that lets you name a person (your proxy) to make medical decisions for you, should you become unable to do so.

There are several things to consider in creating an advance directive. Check state laws regarding living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care. Put your wishes in writing and be as specific as possible. Sign and date your advance directive and have it notarized if necessary. Keep a card in your wallet stating that you have an advance directive and where to find it. Give your health care provider a copy for your medical records. If you use a durable power of attorney for health care, give your proxy a copy too. Discuss your advance directive with family and friends. Give a copy to anyone who might be notified in an emergency.

There are some other special issues you may wish to consider as well. A “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order allows you to refuse attempts to restore heartbeat. Organ donation allows you to donate specific organs or your entire body through your advance directive. In addition to pain management controls, you may request or refuse a variety of specific medical procedures.