Over 15,000 hospital visits result in admission to intensive care units every day. Emergencies happen and without a health directive you can leave your loved ones stressed and yourself voiceless. A Health Care Advance Directive protects against that danger by giving instructions about your health care wants and/or appointing an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf when you can’t speak for yourself. A Living Will is a document you fill out to state your wishes about life sustaining medical treatment such as life support and tube feeding if you are permanently unconscious or near death with a fatal illness. This type of document is directed to the physician and facility treating you. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is a document where you appoint a trusted family member or friend to make medical treatment decisions for you when you cannot.
Let’s say Bob is critically injured in a car accident on the way home from work and as a result is in a permanent vegetative state. Without a Health Care Advance Directive and/or Durable Power of Attorney in place that outlines his wishes, his doctors won’t know his wishes and his family and loved ones are left to dispute and essentially guess what Bob may have wanted—ultimately delaying treatment decisions. Even if Bob’s family comes to a consensus on what treatment option is best for Bob, this type of informal agreement may not be accepted in the state where he is receiving care. And if Bob’s family cannot reach an agreement, the odds of needing a court appointed guardian increase.
Not only do a Health Care Advance Directive and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care express what you want, they also express what you don’t want and put limits and guidelines on whoever you choose to be your agent. If you are still competent, you have the right to override the decisions made on your behalf by your agent or even remove the directive completely. If you are not competent, your health directive will set forth your clear and detailed desires about being kept alive with tube feed, hydration, or a ventilator when those measures would serve only to prolong the time of your death. Here are some tips to keep in mind when considering a health directive:
- Make sure your doctor understands and supports your wishes.
- You or your agent should double check to be sure your providers are aware of your health directive.
- Review your wishes every year and make changes if needed.
- Health directives are essential starting at the age of 18. Young adults have more to risk as new medical technology is able to keep someone in a vegetative state alive for many years.
- Even if you are healthy and feel as though you have expressed your wishes with family members in case of emergency situations, having an advance directive is essential in protecting those wishes.
If you would like to know more about health directives, contact an experienced Boise wills and trusts lawyer to get the information you need.
Thanks to our friend and blog author, Thomas H. Anderson of Anderson Law, for his insight into health directives.