Advanced Healthcare Directives and Planning for the End of Your Life

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No one relishes the thought of sitting down with a loved one and discussing their medical preferences for treatment if they are unable to make their own health care choices. But, as unpleasant as this may sound, it can ward off a tremendous amount of heartache and angst for those who might be left with making momentous decisions on your behalf if you cannot make them for yourself.


First it is important to remember that an advanced healthcare directive is not mandatory for anyone. Instead, it is a way to ensure that if you cannot make your own health care decisions, someone you love and trust will make them for you in the manner you would like them to be made. As such it does require you to contemplate and decide what types of life saving treatments you would be willing to undergo. 


There are several types of treatments that you can indicate you would be willing to receive or choose to deny. These include;

  • Resuscitation
  • Administering food and water via a feeding and hydrating tube
  • Organ donation
  • Being placed on a ventilator and for how long
  • Types and levels of pain medications


It is important to only make decisions that you are sure you are ready to stand firm on. For example, if you are uncertain as to whether you want to donate organs, then do not make that decision in haste. An advanced health care directive can always be modified and changed. If you are of sound mind and have the capacity to make your own health care decisions, you have time and flexibility to alter your choices.


It is extremely important that you choose someone you trust to carry out your health care directives. This person is called a health care proxy. The person you choose should be comfortable with making the decisions you are requesting. In addition, the person should be willing to stand firm to any opposition they might face over following through with your wishes.


To give your health care proxy a stable base from which to carry out your directives it is always best to put your desires in written form.  And, while you can give the instructions verbally, it will always be easier for your directives to be implemented if they are codified in a writing. An acceptable writing can take forms including a letter or a standard questionnaire type document that you download from a health care site. Either way, a court will allow your health care proxy to carry out your wishes if your instructions are deemed a valid advance care directive.


Keep in mind that a valid health care directive must include the following;

  • You must be of sound mind when making your health care directive
  • Your directives must be carried out by a person of your choosing who also has the capacity to make the decisions at the time of necessity
  • You must clearly state the types of treatments and/or life saving measures you want taken on your behalf
  • You must be clear under what circumstances the health care proxy can assume the role of making your health care decisions for you
  • You must be in the same physical state of incapacity as defined in your directive before the health care proxy can begin making decisions on your behalf


Once you have completed your advance health care directive you should give a copy to your health care proxy and place a copy with your other important documents such as your Will. If you make changes to your directive, be sure to give your health care proxy and updated version for their records.


An advanced health care directive can be a difficult document to create. It can also be difficult to share with your loved ones. But once you have taken the time to reflect on the type of life saving measures you would want taken on your behalf, and who you would trust to carry out your wishes, it can provide a great sense of relief and comfort to all involved.

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