An accident or sudden illness can leave you incapacitated. What happens when there's a question about the medical treatment needed to keep you alive? People have strong feelings about these things, like life support, pain management, and organ donation. You may want one thing while family members want another thing. Without a Advance Directive, your preferences may not be known, and if not known, those choices will be made by someone else––typically a close family member, and what they want may differ from what you would have chosen.
To maintain control over your medical treatment in the event life-threatening illness or injury leaves you without the ability to speak on your own behalf, you should consider drafting an Advance Directive, also known as a Living Will. Advance Directives can be an integral part of anyone's estate plan. When you come to our office for an Advance Directive, our attorney will discuss end-of-life care decisions that you can make in a Advance Directive and then draft and execute a valid document. There's no harm in always being prepared for the worst, and we want our clients to be well-informed and engaged in these types of decisions.
What Constitutes an Advance Directive?
An Advance Directive tells doctors and loved ones what a person wants to happen in the event that they become incapacitated and need ongoing medical care. They are pre-written medical decisions that provide guidance when the patient is unable to make the decisions in the moment.
A patient's healthcare wishes are only triggered when the patient is unable to make decisions on their own. This can happen when the patient:
- Is in a coma
- Is unconscious
- Suffers from dementia or Alzheimer's
- Is in a vegetative state
A n Advance Directive allows doctors and the patient's loved ones to provide the treatment that the patient would have wanted, rather than having to guess what the patient would want. The medical preferences in the Advance Directive can be specific or general but should consider most if not all of the following:
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which restarts the heart when it has stopped beating
- Mechanical ventilation, which is a device that breathes for you
- Tube feeding, where fluids and nutrients are delivered either intravenously or by a tube in the stomach
- Dialysis, a method to remove waste from your blood and manage fluid levels if the kidneys do not function properly
- Antibiotics or antiviral medications, which are used to treat all sorts of infections
- Palliative care, which is basically comfort care to manage pain
- Organ, tissue, or body donations, which could mean that you are treated with life-sustaining care temporarily.
You should also come up with a timeframe to emerge from a coma before ending life support or to determine how long you want any of the above medical treatments.
To note, you do not need an Advance Directive for indicating: do not resuscitate (DNR) or do not intubate (DNI). You can simply tell your primary care provider and they will write the orders for the same and document it in your medical record. If you put your preferences for DNR and DNI in your Advance Directive, it is still a good idea to inform your doctor of the same.
The Benefits of an Advance Directive
An Advance Directive helps with the confusion and uncertainty that comes from caring for someone who is unable to decide what treatments they want to receive. It can also eliminate the guilt that a patient's loved ones can feel when they have to make a medical decision that could end the patient's life. Likewise, it can prevent disagreements or disputes among family members if they have to decide your fate. Again, everyone has their own opinion, but in these situations, you want yours to be the deciding factor.
Advance Directive vs Last Will and Testament
Since Advance Directives are sometimes referred to as Living Wills, some people have confused a Living Will with a Last Will and Testament. Living Wills (Advance Directives) are different from a Last Will and Testament in two important respects:
- Advance Directives take effect when the person is still alive, while a Last Will and Testament only applies when the person has passed away.
- Advance Directives direct healthcare decisions, while a Last Will and Testament directs how the deceased person's property is to be distributed.
A single person can have both an Advance Directive and a Last Will and Testament. In fact, we strongly advise everyone to have both.
There are many reasons to have an Advance Directive, but having one is different from having a well-drafted one. You want to think about your values and how important it is for you to be independent or self-sufficient versus not being and having someone else care for you. Our attorney, Corry, will go over all these things with you and help you determine what's best for you. Contact us today by either calling us directly at 580-782-3348 or filling out our online form.