Life threatening illness or injury confronts hundreds of thousands in the United States each year. Advance directives are statements by competent persons which articulate that person’s medical, legal and personal wishes regarding treatment in the event of future incapacity. The preparation of an advance directive offers individuals the opportunity to discuss with physicians, clergy, legal counsel, family members and other loved ones in advance what measures would be appropriate for them when it comes to end-of-life care.
A finalized and properly executed advance directive is intended to advise family members, medical providers and other persons of how an individual would want to be treated in certain crisis situations and to avoid any legal or medical confusion due to the emotions involved in end-of-life decisions.
Many organizations provide guidance for patients on advance directive preparation, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. The American Medical Association states that: "Patients have a right to take an active role in their own health care. Unfortunately, there are times, such as sudden illness or an accident, when this is not possible... Physicians can play an important role in initiating and guiding the advance care planning process by making it a routine part of care for all patients, which is revisited regularly to explore any changes a patient may have in his or her wishes. This process ultimately can benefit patients; it can provide them with a sense of control and peace of mind with regard to their future health care. It is also advisable for physicians to do their own advance care planning. It is important to support advance care planning decisions with formal documents, such as an advance directive. An advance directive might include a living will, through which a person indicates whether specific medical interventions would be desired, or a durable power of attorney for health care, whereby a patient designates a specific person to act as their agent for health care decisions in the event the patient is incapable of making such decisions."
While physicians are commonly urged to raise the issue of end-of-life decision making with their patients, advance directives are legal documents. Contact John Little, Attorney at Law, PC, if you feel more comfortable discussing the preparation of an advance directive as a legal document with a healthcare attorney.