One of the toughest conversations I’ve experienced revolved around what to do if a loved one were in a coma and I had to decide whether to continue her life support. What a responsibility: To have life or death decision-making authority for a parent or spouse or even a child.
We’ve all heard about people whose lives were artificially sustained long after they had the ability to communicate, or move, or even breathe on their own. Some remain in a comatose state on life-sustaining equipment for years because no instructions set out what treatment the patient desired.
Why have a living will or advance directive? Simply, to enable you to direct your medical care if you are unable to communicate your wishes. If you are in a serious accident or a coma, medical professionals will want to know your wishes. Without knowing them they are bound to prolong your life, however serious, life threatening, or terminal your condition may be.
Legal documents that set out your wishes go by many names: living will, durable power of attorney for health care, advance medical directive, and health care proxy.
A Living Will allows you to inform health care providers the kind of medical treatment you wish to receive or have withheld if you are too ill or injured to make an informed decision. One of the most thoughtfully written is known as “Five Wishes.” Check www.agingwithdignity.org .
A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (also known as an advance medical directive) allows you to designate someone (sometimes referred to as a health care proxy, or agent, or attorney-in-fact, or surrogate) in advance to make health and medical care decisions if you are unable to.
Keep in mind each state regulates the use of advance directives and living wills differently. Consult with an attorney or check with your state’s website before preparing these documents.
Second, you can always revise and update the provisions in your living will and advance directive.
Third, make copies of these documents and have them easily accessible. You may want to provide copies to your proxy as well as your doctor, medical facility and attorney.
Most importantly, have these conversations (tough or otherwise) with your loved ones now, BEFORE an emergency happens. As Linda and Bruce found out (two blogs ago) you never know when it’ll ‘hit the fan.’