What you need to know to make decisions about your healthcare
What is an advance directive?
An advance directive helps assure your personal wishes about medical treatment are carried out should you become so ill that you are unable to communicate.
What kinds of decisions do I make?
You can make decisions about what measures you want your physician to take to prolong your life or keep you comfortable.
If you fear being kept alive by machines for an indefinite period of time, you may direct your doctor that you do not want to be kept alive by artificial or mechanical means. This is sometimes called withholding treatment.
If you are near death you may tell your doctor that you have reached the point when you don’t want to be kept alive by machines any longer. This is sometimes called withdrawing treatment.
If you fail to talk about your choices, the burden for decision-making shifts to family members, doctors or the courts, who may not know or share your values.
Where do I start?
Discuss your wishes with family and friends, as well as with your doctor. Be open about your fears and concerns, and feel free to ask your doctor questions about things that confuse you. The more you talk to your doctor and the people close to you, the easier it will be for them to carry out your wishes. Then, you can state your wishes in writing. You can choose one of three ways to do that:
- Ask your physician to write your instructions into your medical record, including the name of the relative or friend you’ve asked to act on your behalf.
- Write a durable power of attorney for healthcare.
- Make a living will.
A durable power of attorney for healthcare authorizes a person of your choice (commonly called a surrogate) to make decisions on your behalf. This document, which offers your surrogate and doctor the greatest opportunity for interpreting your decisions, becomes effective when you are unable to make decisions.
When do advance directives apply?
An advance directive applies when you are near death, in a coma, or otherwise unable
I’m not a doctor. How can I know enough to make these decisions?
You don’t have to be a doctor to write an advance directive. That’s because an advance directive is a personal decision based on medical information provided by your doctor.
Will my doctor help me?
Of course. If you have a serious illness, your doctor will discuss your chance for recovery and then will recommend a course of care. He or she will help you understand how well the treatments are likely to work, what the side effects of the treatments will be and the possible consequences if you refuse any treatment. Your doctor will talk to you about the treatment options that offer an opportunity for recovery or those options that will make you more comfortable while you are ill.
What if I change my mind?
That’s OK. An advance directive is really nothing more than instructions. If you change your mind for any reason, talk about your new decision with your family, friends and doctor and then change your instructions. It’s that simple.
What if I have more questions?
Start by asking your doctor. He or she knows your medical history and can talk to you about your treatment choices. Remember, you can talk to close friends, your family and your priest, minister or rabbi if you have any trouble making this personal decision.