Advance directives: what are they?

In addition to having a conversation with family and loved ones regarding end-of-life care, it is important to have your wishes documented as part of advance directives. One important component of advance directives is the durable power of attorney for health care, which allows you to establish a patient advocate to speak on your behalf if you are incapacitated. This person does not have to be a family member, and should be someone you trust to carry out your wishes if you cannot verbalize them. Advance directives are the key to ensuring you get the treatment you want in the event you cannot speak for yourself.

In addition to establishing advance directives and naming a patient advocate, health professionals recommend including specific instructions regarding the care you would and would not like to receive. This should include instructions in the instance your health status changes or unforeseen situations occur. It is important to speak with your patient advocate in detail regarding your wishes and what you consider a quality life. If there are certain actions you would or would not want to be taken, such as life-sustaining measures, they should be explicitly written in your advance directives. If not, and you were to become incapacitated, it may place unnecessary stress on you, your patient advocate, family and loved ones.

In the case of an emergency, advance directives are especially important. If you were to become ill and hospitalized, it is the hospital's duty to sustain your life, regardless of the chance of recovery, the ability to pay for services, or the emotional toll on family and loved ones. By having advance directives established, you can ensure your wishes regarding end-of-life care are acknowledged and fulfilled by medical staff. Creating advance directives is simple and helps establish peace of mind for your family and loved ones.

Once your patient advocate has been named, that person is responsible for making decisions regarding care, custody, medical and mental health treatment. This may include employing and discharging medical staff, consent or withdrawal of treatment, or even arranging care at home or in a nursing home. Having your wishes documented will help ensure your patient advocate understands the medical and mental health treatment you wish to receive.

Check back next week for part three of our five-part series on advance directives.