Do you know what kind of medical treatment you would want if you were seriously ill or injured and unable to communicate your own wishes?
Would your doctor or loved ones know what to do on your behalf?
If you answered “no” to these questions, it might be time to prepare an advance directive. This legal document outlines your treatment preferences and names someone to make decisions when you are unable to speak for yourself.
An advance directive can give you peace of mind that your values and choices will be honored. It can also ease potential confusion and conflict among the people you love.
Advance directives aren’t only for the frail elderly and seriously ill. Everyone 18 and older should have an advance directive in case they need emergency medical treatment but cannot communicate for themselves.
Making your wishes known
Before you create an advance directive:
- Think about your health care and how it relates to your personal beliefs and values.
- Decide who you would want to make decisions for you if couldn’t make them for yourself.
- Talk with this person and with family members about your preferences for treatment and care through the end of life.
- Talk with your doctor and other health care providers about your wishes.
Creating an advance directive
Next, put your wishes in writing. There generally are two elements to an advance directive:
- Living will: A living will is a written document that outlines what medical treatment you would, and would not, want in various circumstances.
- Durable power of attorney for health care: This document names someone as your proxy to make medical decisions for you when you are unable to do so. This person could be a family member, close friend, attorney – anyone you trust and feel comfortable with.
If you are unsure of what kind of care you would want but are confident someone else can make the decisions, you can simply name a proxy.
Sharing your advance directive
Keep your advance directive in an accessible place. Scan a copy into a PDF file (or ask someone to scan it for you) and send the file or printed copies to your proxy decision-maker, your doctor and others who might be involved with your health care.
If you prepare an advance directive while you are in good health and possibly years away from serious illness or death, make sure to review it periodically so that it reflects your wishes as you age.
Expect whole-person care
The Providence Institute for Human Caring is working to raise national awareness of the need for advance directives. Advance directives are an essential part of “whole person care,” which embraces the medical and personal needs of patients. Providence believes that raising consumer expectations for whole person care will inspire more patients and families to insist on it, and more hospitals and physicians to provide it.
Take the first step. Talk to your loved ones and health care provider about preparing an advance directive. If you have questions, you can contact the Institute for Human Caring here. Or visit the Conversation Project and use its starter kit.