What happens if you get hurt and can’t tell the doctors how to care for you? Do you want them to do everything possible to save you or let you die peacefully? An advance directive is a form that you fill out to describe the kinds of medical care you want to have if something happens to you and you can’t speak for yourself. It tells your family and your doctor what to do if you’re badly hurt or have a serious illness that keeps you from saying what you want.
There are two main types of advance directives:
- A living will tells your family and your doctor what kinds of treatment you want to receive as you near the end of your life and if you can no longer speak for yourself. A living will is also called a “treatment directive.”
- A medical power of attorney lets you name a person to make treatment decisions for you when you can’t speak for yourself. This person is called a health care agent or health care proxy.
As long as you can still make your own decisions, your advance directive won’t be used. You can stop or say “no” to treatment at any time.
How to write an advance directive
As you prepare your advance directive, you should first make sure you get the living will and medical power of attorney forms for your state. Forms are different in each state, so be sure to get the right ones for where you live. You can get the forms in a doctor’s office, hospital, law office, state or local office for the aging, senior center, or nursing home. You can also get them online at www.caringinfo.org or by calling 1-800-658-8898.
Then, decide who you want to be your health care agent. It should be someone you trust, like a close friend, one of your children, or a spouse, to make decisions for you.
When you fill out the forms, make sure you have them witnessed as the state requires. Then, give copies to your family, your doctor, and your health care agent.
Things to think about
When you write your advance directive, think about the kinds of treatments that you do or don’t want to receive if you get seriously hurt or ill. Do you want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops? If you can’t breathe on your own, do you want to be on a machine that pumps air into your lungs through a tube? Would you like to be on a machine that cleans your blood if your kidneys stop working?
These are tough choices to make, but you don’t have to make them alone. Share your questions or concerns about what to include in your advance directive with your doctor or nurse, your lawyer, your family, or a friend.
Changing your advance directive
You can change or cancel your advance directive at any time. All you have to do is fill out new forms and get rid of your existing forms. Or you can just let your family, your doctor, and your health care agent know about the change. If you change or create new forms, give everyone an updated copy. Don’t just cross out or add new information unless it’s only to change your address or phone number.