Medical care decisions and advance directives

An advance medical directive is a document that allows you to decide now about your future medical care. It is a set of directions for the kind of medical care you want if you cannot make decisions and communicate your wishes in the future.

An advance medical directive is a powerful communication tool. If you are ever unable to express your wishes because you are too ill, it will guide your family and physicians in your care. Before making your final decisions to be expressed in an advanced medical directive, it’s a good idea to discuss options with your family members, spiritual advisor, your physician, or your attorney. As part of this packet you will be provided with excellent reference material to read through and learn more about your medical care decisions and advance directives. You DO NOT need an attorney to complete an advance medical directive form. Your family physician or clergy can help you.

There are two kinds of advance medical directives:

  1. A living will is a signed, dated and witnessed document you prepare to tell others what type of care you want or don’t want if you become terminally ill. A living will is only consulted if your condition is incurable and life threatening and you are not able to make treatment decisions.
  2. A medical durable power of attorney is a document in which you appoint someone to make healthcare decisions for you when you are unable to make them yourself. This can be a different person than you give power of attorney over your estate and financial matters.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) directive— A CPR directive is a form allowing you or your medical proxy to refuse resuscitation (CPR) if you stop breathing or your heart stops. If you have a CPR directive and your heart and/or lungs top functioning, healthcare personnel will NOT begin CPR, assist with respiration, or use electric shock to revive you.

If you do not have a “Do Not Resuscitate” order or a CPR directive and your heart and/or lungs stop functioning, hospital personnel will always attempt to resuscitate you. A CPR directive is generally signed by patients with a terminal illness or sometimes by very frail, elderly patients.

Medical proxies— If a patient becomes unable to make medical decisions and does not have an advance directive, family members and/or close friend may be asked to select a substitute decision maker, a medical proxy, who makes the patient’s healthcare choices.

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