What Is An Advanced Directive And Do I Need One?


None of us like to think that a time may come when we have a medical emergency, but are unable to tell the healthcare team what our wishes are.  An Advanced Directive is a document that can speak for us when we are unable to speak for ourselves and tell a healthcare team and our family our wishes.

An Advance Directive describes the kind of treatment you would want depending on how sick you are. For example, the Advanced Directive would describe what kind of care you want if you have an illness that you are unlikely to recover from, or if you are permanently unconscious. Advance Directives usually tell your doctor that you don’t want certain kinds of treatment.

There are several kinds of Advanced Directives.  A Living Will is one type of advance directive. It is a written, legal document that describes the kind of medical treatments or life-sustaining treatments you would want if you were seriously or terminally ill. A Living Will doesn’t let you select someone to make decisions for you.  A durable power of attorney for health care is another kind of advance directive. A durable power of attorney for healthcare states whom you have chosen to make health care decisions for you. It becomes active any time you are unconscious or unable to make medical decisions. A durable power of attorney for healthcare is generally more useful than a living will, but a durable power of attorney for healthcare may not be a good choice if you don’t have another person you trust to make these decisions for you.

Any time you go for healthcare, your healthcare provider will probably ask if you have an Advanced Directive.  If you do execute an Advanced Directive, make sure that your primary healthcare provider has a copy in your record.  More importantly, discuss you wishes with your family.  It is important that your family understand your wishes and can be supportive of the healthcare decisions you wish.  Spelling out our wishes makes it more likely that they will be followed, and it also lessens the likelihood of conflict within the family when difficult decisions need to be made.