The topic of advanced directives is a hot one these days, gaining more and more attention from medical, legal, and media professionals. With so much information floating around, it’s tough to keep all of the facts straight.
We’ve got answers to three of the most common questions about advanced directives to help you understand just what they are, why they are important, and how you can make them a reality in your life.
What is an Advanced Directive?
The term “advanced directives” refers to any method that you can use to make medical decisions before they are necessary. Advanced directives are used in the event that you are unable to make medical choices for yourself.
The two main examples of advanced directives are living wills and durable power of attorneys of health care.
Unlike a Last Will and Testament, which leaves instructions for after you’ve died, a Living Will leaves instructions for when you are still alive. In a living will, you can specify which medical procedures or treatments that you would consent to if you were able.
A durable power of attorney for health care is a legal, signed, and witness document that appoints a trusted individual to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are not able to do so. This is different from a financial power of attorney, although you can appoint the same individual to both roles.
It is possible to have both of these advanced directives, and in some states, the two are combined into a single document.
Why are Advanced Directives such a big deal?
With the rapid progress of medical technology, there are a lot more ways to keep you alive these days. From general CPR to respirators, from artificial hydration and nutrition to DNRs and DNIs, medical professionals have many options for prolonging your life.
Some individuals feel very strongly that these measures are not for them, while others would prefer to use any method necessary to keep themselves alive. Regardless of how you feel, it is a very personal decision, and when the time comes to make it, you may not be able to speak for yourself.
One of the main reasons why advanced directives are such a big deal if because it can lessen the burden placed upon family members to make the choices for you, without really knowing what you want. In those types of situations, finding a balance between respecting what they think you might want, and acting based on what they want, can be very difficult.
Advanced directives are also a big deal because of the peace of mind they can offer, not just for your family, but for you as well. Death is not an easy thing to talk about, but knowing that your wishes are known by those that love you and take care of you can ease some of the burden that comes with facing the end of life.
When should I start working on my advanced directives?
It’s a common misconception that you don’t need to think about advanced directives until you’re older. The truth is, it’s never to early to start the conversation about the end of life.
Let’s use this scenario as an example: If you were in a car accident tomorrow, and sustained a brain injury so severe that it would leave you in a permanent vegetative state, would you want to stay alive with the help of machines?
These types of decisions are not easy for anyone to make, but they can be less difficult when the outcome is not an immediate reality.
Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you get started. Here are a few that we recommend:
Aging with Dignity
Download their Five Wishes form to help you express how you want to be treated in the event of accident or illness.
This site has links to state-specific advanced directive forms that you can download and fill out.
American Hospital Association
Their “Put it in Writing” campaign has an informational brochure and a downloadable advanced directive card that you can place in your wallet.
More so than filling out the forms and answering the tough questions, the most important part about choosing advanced directives is sharing your decisions with those who will be taking care of you. Make sure that your family, physicians, and legal representatives know what your wishes are.
Starting conversations about the end of life can be difficult, but talking about it now can make things much easier on everyone when the time comes when your decisions need to be implemented.
At Hospice of Siouxland, we are here to help you with this conversation in any way we can. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.