Choosing Your Care
Death and dying are the natural end of the aging process.
Your right to make decisions regarding your own health care and the conditions under which you want medical treatment continued or discontinued is now clearly recognized under both the United States Constitution and state law.
More than ever before, people are aware of their rights, and health care professionals are equipped to discuss and assist with death and dying options with individuals.
How do I choose my care?
When you need medical care, you have the right to make choices about that care.
But, what if you are so sick or so badly injured that you are unable to make your choices known?
Your living will, healthcare durable power of attorney or health care advance directive are legal documents through which you can ensure that your medical care choices are known ahead of time.
If you have one or more of these legal documents, you can make sure that your last days and life's end are carried out according to your wishes, even if you are no longer able to speak for yourself.
While all 50 states and the District of Columbia now have laws allowing health care advance directives, living wills and durable health care powers of attorney, these laws may vary from one state to the next. The law respects any form of written directive regarding your stated values and preferences regarding your death and dying.
How does a written directive regarding your death and dying help?
If you sign a written directive, your family or other representative, and your health care professional(s) will know who to talk to about your care or what kinds of treatment you want or don't want when you are too sick to decide. This could happen if you have a serious illness, injury or are near the end of life.
If your health care professionals do not know your wishes, they will treat you until they are able to ask your family or other representative what your wishes are.
If your family or other representative does not know, you may get treatments which you do not want or which you would stop if you had your way.
In an emergency you will receive care until the health care professionals who are treating you can determine your condition and what your wishes are.
For example, if you come to the emergency room and you have stopped breathing and/or your heart has stopped beating, there may be no time to find out if you have a living will or health care advance directive before ardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is started.
If you do not want CPR, your doctor must write a "Do Not Resuscitate" (DNR) order for you and put it in your health care records.
The time to discuss your concerns about CPR and other liife-saving treatments with your doctor and/or other health care professionals is while you are well.
What is a living will?
A living will is a legal document which:
States your wishes about life-sustaining health care and/or medical treatments in the event you are terminally ill. It gives instructions about the kind of health care and/or medical treatment you do or do not want if you can no longer speak for yourself (become "incompetent").
When you are dying or in a permanent coma, for example, the living will explains whether or not you want certain treatments.
Your living will can also state your wishes whether or not to donate your organs, and it names your primary health professional.
What is a health care durable power of attorney?
A health care durable power of attorney is a legal document which:
Appoints someone you trust to make health care and/or medical treatment decisions for you (your "heath care agent"), and gives instructions to your agent about the kind of health care and/or medical treatment you do or do not want, if you cannot speak for yourself.
Your agent can be a family member, or a friend, or a legal professional. Your agent must follow any choices you make in an advance directive or living will.
What is a Health Care Advance Directive?
A health care advance directive is a legal document which:
Generally, consolidates the traditional living will and health care durable power of attorney into a single, comprehensive document.
Health care advance directives generally extends the kind of health care and/or medical treatment you do or do not want to aspects of your health care beyond that which is covered by traditional living wills. Traditional living wills are limited to cases of terminal illness.
The directive states your wishes about health care treatment plans, including, but not limited to, your decisions about life-sustaining treatment, and selects an agent to make and communicate these decisions for you if you cannot speak for yourself.
What rights do I have as a patient?
When you need medical care, you have certain rights, including the right to know what your medical condition is, to decide your treatment plan, and to refuse care altogether if you wish.
If you have a written health care directive, you can state your medical treatment choices in advance of a time when you may be incapacitated.
By having your wishes in the form of a legal, signed document, your health care professionals, family members, clergy, and others will know about your wishes in the event you are unable to speak for yourself. This prevents your family, health care providers and others from being forced to make very difficult decisions for you in a time of crisis.
What else should I know?
While it is not necessary to engage a lawer or legal professional to make a written health care directive, you may wish to speak with a legal professional to assist with the process of completing your living will, health care durable power of attorney or advance directive.
A legal professional will ensure that your health care documents meet any special legal requirements in your state, and any and all other legal requirements.
Every hospital, many health care providers and legal professional in your state have sample forms or can assist you to get the forms and explain them to you. Your health professional can obtain the forms for you, and explain them to you, but your health care professional cannot give you legal advice.
Legal advice must be given by a legal professional. This guide offers general information about certain specific legal documents and legal rights. However, this guide does not constitute legal advice. We are not legal professionals. Laws pertaining to the statutory requirements pertaining to health care directives vary from state to state. We strongly advise you seek professional legal counsel if you decide you want to have a legal and binding living will, health care durable power of attorney or health care advance directive.
If you do not have a living will, health care durable power of attorney or health care advance directive, you may wish to use use the sample forms provided here to guide you:
We hope this resource is helpful to you.
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