Understanding Advanced Directives

Most of us have heard of getting our affairs in order. One may reach out to an attorney/estate planner to draw up a last will and testament or to designate what becomes of our assets when we die. Well, back in the late 1960s, an attorney wanted to help people plan a will for themselves to use when they were still alive to express their health care wishes, hence the term “living” will. It documents your health care wishes in the event of imminent death from a terminal condition despite life sustaining support or in a state of permanent unconsciousness or other permanently severe conditions where life support will not help you recover.

Advanced directives encompass more aspects of healthcare decisions than a living will alone, including naming the person that will speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself (your health care agent or power of attorney for health care). The document is prepared in ADVANCE when one is able to speak for them self and includes DIRECTIVES for the health care team and your health care agent. Federal law requires hospitals to tell anyone admitted about their right to make an advanced directive.

Personally, I don’t like the term advanced directives; it sounds too…formal. But I am a huge fan of advanced directives planning. Here is why; I don’t know you. I don’t know what you value in life, what is important to you, what your personal thoughts are regarding the meaning of your “life” and what your thoughts are about medical care and life-sustaining therapies. And as a health care provider, that is the information that often guides us when you are seriously or critically ill. We turn to family and friends to help guide our medical management plan giving us insight into your wishes. That is why, at the risk of sounding too “formal”, I recommend you plan ahead with advanced directives.

“For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story, and in stories, endings matter.”
– Atul Gawande

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