These legal documents act as a living will that provides instructions regarding who should oversee your medical treatment. In the event that you're unable to speak for yourself, they outline your end-of-life wishes.
You're not required to prepare these documents, but if questions arise about the kind of medical treatment you want or do not want, advance directives may help solve important issues.
Advance directives include a:
- Living will - A document that describes the kind of life-sustaining care you want if you become terminally ill and are unable to make your own decisions. A living will does not serve as "Do Not Resuscitate" orders or necessarily prevent lifesaving efforts from occurring. Through a living will, you can direct the withholding or withdrawal of any procedure or treatment that would only serve to prolong the dying process.
- Even with a living will, the law still allows your doctor to continue providing treatment to assure your comfort. This treatment could include giving pain medication and performing other procedures to make you more comfortable, even though all other life-support measures may have been withdrawn.
- Healthcare power of attorney - This document allows you to designate another person to make healthcare decisions for you if you're unable to communicate your wishes. There are no restrictions on the number of instructions you can give to your designee in this document.
- Mental healthcare power of attorney - This document allows you to designate another adult to make mental healthcare decisions if you're "incapable." To be considered incapable, a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist must certify that you're unable to give informed consent. A mental healthcare power of attorney must be in writing, agreed to by you while he/she is able to give informed consent and notarized or witnessed. The person given power of attorney can only make decisions consistent with the patient's wishes specified in writing. A patient can revoke his or her mental healthcare power of attorney - even if he or she is considered "incapable" - unless there is an express provision in the document to the contrary.
Forms for the living will and the healthcare power of attorney will be made available to you during your registration process at your request. You can also request them from your (or the patient's) nurse.