Thinking about “what ifs” can be uncomfortable. It requires us to acknowledge that there might come a time when we are unable to speak for ourselves, whether that’s temporary and for only a short time, or whether it’s for a longer duration and possibly even permanently.
But planning for contingencies should be and in fact is empowering. Especially when it comes to our medical care.
That’s why creating an advance health care directive and a durable power of attorney for health care is important. In combination, these legal documents state your preferences and wishes about medical care and treatment in the event you’re unable to communicate or make decisions for yourself.
More specifically, an advance health care directive outlines your health care and medical wishes before you’re unable to share them yourself, while a durable power of attorney allows you to appoint someone as your agent to make decisions for you after you’re no longer able to.
An advance health care directive can cover decisions about:
- Whether or not you want to be resuscitated if you stop breathing or your heart stops
- What life-sustaining medical treatment, if any, you wish to receive if you are unconscious or permanently comatose
- Whether you wish to prolong your life if you are terminally ill and if so, under what circumstances
- What life-sustaining medical treatment, if any, you wish to receive if you are terminally ill
- Under what circumstances you might want medical care to be withdrawn if you are terminally ill
- Whether you wish to receive palliative care in your own home or would prefer to stay in a hospital during the last stages of your life
In consultation with your medical team and using your advance health care directive as a guide, a durable power of attorney for health care can decide:
- Whether to have you undergo or cease receiving invasive therapies
- If the risks of treatment outweigh the benefits
- How to best honor your spiritual or religious beliefs in serious medical situations
- Whether to initiate life-sustaining treatment such as CPR, mechanical ventilation, or a feeding tube
Set up an appointment with a qualified attorney to discuss your specific wishes for completing an advance health care directive and a durable power of attorney for health care, and to ensure the final documents meet your state’s legal requirements.
Once the documents are finalized, consider carrying a wallet-sized notification card listing the existence of both documents and who has been given copies so these people can be contacted in the event of a medical emergency.