Now that you have hopefully talked with your loved ones about getting an Advance Directive (AD) done, or are thinking about updating it, here is a little more information. By the way, it is recommended that people review their Advance Directive every five years or so, or every time there is a change in health status, or if the assigned Medical Power of Attorney is no longer available.
THE LIVING WILL
This part of the Advance Directive allows you to specify which kinds of treatment and care you desire if you are unable to speak for yourself.
A living will allows you to express your wishes about any aspect of your health care, including decisions regarding life-sustaining treatments. Remember, it can include treatments and procedures you do or do not want. Statements regarding organ and tissue donation may also be included. The instructions provided in this portion of the form serve as evidence of the patient’s wishes.
THE MEDICAL DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY
This document provides the designation of someone who will be able to make decisions regarding your health care if you are unable to speak for yourself due to illness or injury. This designated person may also be called a health care agent, proxy, surrogate or representative. This person should be informed and agree that you are naming him or her in the AD. It must be a person you know will truly go to bat for you and express exactly what your wishes are when you are not able.
It is important to think about who this person will be; as an example, an adult child might not be the best person to appoint if they are going to be too emotionally involved to honor your wishes. They might instead ask for all life-saving procedures when that might not have been your wish.
Make sure the person you choose can stand up under the pressure of timely decision-making and still honor YOUR wishes.
If the time comes for a decision to be made, the agent can participate in relevant discussions, weighing the pros and cons of treatment decisions based on your previously expressed wishes. The agent can participate even if decision-making capacity is only temporarily affected. The degree of authority (how much or how little) you want this agent to have can be defined in the document. Alternate agents can also be appointed in case the primary agent is unwilling or unable to act. Additionally, you may name individuals who specifically are NOT to participate in decision-making.
If an agent is not appointed, the law in most states provides for other decision-makers by default, usually beginning with the spouse and adult children and ending with the patient’s physician. Physicians tend to err on the side of prolonging life so their decisions may not be consistent with the patient’s desires. In some cases, if the patient does not have an AD, a court may be required to appoint a guardian.
Lastly, here is the link for California’s Advance Directive form which can be completed online.
Next week, in Part 2, we will cover the POLST (Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) and The Dementia Directive.