Many people, particularly those suffering from a serious illness or disease, want their doctors to be aware of their wishes about medical care and treatment. You can make your wishes known, even if you are too sick to communicate with your doctor, by signing an advance directive. Of the available advance directives, living wills and do-not-resuscitate orders convey your wishes, while powers of attorney for health care and health care proxies appoint another person to make decisions for you.
Advance directives were created to address concerns people had about end-of-life decisions. People who did not want to be kept alive through artificial means feared being so sick they would be unable to communicate their wishes to doctors or loved ones. People wanted to have a method to convey their wishes if they could not do so for themselves.Today, you can use advance directives, such as living wills and do-not-resuscitate orders, to convey your end-of life decisions and inform your doctor of the types of treatment you want and do not want. You can also appoint another person to make those decisions for you through a power of attorney for health care or health care proxy.
Conveying Your Wishes
A living will is a legal document in which you specify the medical treatment you want administered or withheld if you are unable to communicate with the doctor. A do-not- resuscitate order is a form of advance directive in which you direct medical personnel not to perform cardiac pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on you.
Designating Another Person
Powers of attorney for health care and health care proxies are legal documents in which you designate a person to act as your agent to make medical decisions for you. State laws determine which form may be used in each state. Powers of attorney and health care proxies are advance directives, but they do not contain an expression of your specific wishes with regard to treatment.
Combining Advance Directives
Advance directives can work best to meet your needs if you have more than just one type. Having a power of attorney or health care proxy, living will and do-not-resuscitate order ensures your designated decision maker will know your wishes. It also informs your doctors of your wishes in situations where the person you designate is not present or is unsure of what decision to make.
References & Resources
- Family Doctor: Advance Directives and Do Not Resuscitate Orders
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Advance Directives and Advance Care Planning: Report to Congress
- NYC Caregiver: Legal Information; Durable Power of Attorney
- New York State Department of Health: The Health Care Proxy Law: A Guidebook for Health Care Professionals
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