What You Need to Know About Advanced Directives

  • Living Wills
  • Healthcare Proxy
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

Adult patients of sound mind have the right to accept or refuse any medical or surgical treatment through an advance directive, also known as a living will. You also have the right to appoint a relative or friend to make medical decisions for you if you become unconscious or mentally incapable of making decisions.

What is a living will?

A living will is a legal document which states your wishes about medical treatment if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. The living will tells your doctors, nurses and family members of those wishes. It states which medical procedures to be done or not done if you have a condition from which you cannot recover. It allows you to refuse certain medical procedures that may only prolong your dying, or maintain your body in an unconscious state. The living will goes into effect only if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious.

What is a healthcare proxy (durable power of attorney)?

With a healthcare proxy, you can choose another person to decide healthcare issues any time you are unconscious or mentally unable to decide. The person you choose is your “Healthcare Representative.” Your healthcare proxy can be part of your living will.

Should I have a living will and a healthcare proxy?

You do not have to be seriously ill or even expecting to be ill to benefit from having this document. If you sign a document when you are able, you will be protecting family members from emotional stress in an unexpected crisis. You will be deciding in advance who will make healthcare decisions for you. You will control the extent to which doctors will use medical means to prolong your life. You will relieve others from the responsibility of having to make decisions on your behalf without knowing your wishes.

Does this mean giving up or stopping care?

No, it does not. If you are terminally ill or permanently uncon- scious, your doctors and nurses will continue to provide care, attending to your needs and making every effort to keep you comfortable. They will continue humane treatment.

What types of treatment are affected by a living will?

In your living will, you can tell your doctor that you do not want certain treatments. For example, you may wish to not be hospitalized if you are terminally ill or perma- nently unconscious. In addition, you may decide against any treatments, which your doctor believes will not cure you, but will only postpone the moment of death by keeping your body functions going artificially. Some examples include:

  • ARTIFICIAL FEEDING: If you are no longer able to swallow, your doctor may have you fed through tubes inserted through your nose, an incision in your abdomen, or intravenously (through a vein).
  • ARTIFICIAL VENTILATION: Ventilators and respirators are machines that aid your breathing. Some patients become dependent on ventilators and would die without their support. In your living will, you can make it clear whether you want a ventilator if your condition is not likely to improve.
  • CARDIOPULMONARY RESUSCITATION (CPR): When the heart stops (cardiac arrest), doctors and nurses use special measures called cardiac resuscitation to try to restart the heart. They may utilize heart massage, give IV medications, or use electrical shocks.

A LIVING WILL may direct the healthcare team to use any or none of these measures. The choice is yours.

How do I make a living will and a healthcare proxy?

You may make a living will and healthcare proxy by completing a form that may be obtained from McGehee Hospital. Have two adults witness your signature. A living will does not require an attorney.

What do I do with my living will and healthcare proxy form?

Give a copy of your living will and healthcare proxy to your doctor and family members in advance. McGehee Hospital Medical Records Department will also keep your living will on file if you provide them with a copy. Always take a copy with you to the hospital for your chart. It is important for any healthcare provider to know your wishes.

What if I change my mind?

You can change or revoke your living will at any time. Tell your family, doctor and anyone else that has a copy of your change. Ask them to tear up or throw away all copies of the living will that is no longer in effect.

Can one person make a living will for another?

You can make a living will for a close family member who is under 18 if you are the parent or legal guardian.

Can my healthcare proxy make decisions even if I am not terminally ill?

Yes. Your healthcare proxy can make decisions for you any time you are unconscious or mentally unable to make your own healthcare decisions. You would not have to be terminally ill. Your proxy has to try to make decisions similar to what you would have made. Therefore, you should talk with your representative so that person will know what all of your wishes are.