Some people experience a decline in their health as they age which will render them dependent on others for meeting their basic needs. Additionally, many people experience some kind of unanticipated medical emergency at some point in life, such as a blood clot or a car crash, that will leave them incapacitated and dependent on medical care for survival.
In those relatively unusual but very challenging situations, an individual’s advance planning could be the main form of legal protection safeguarding their interests. An advance health care directive, which someone may or may not formally register with the state, can play an important part in guiding their treatment when their health declines. The following types of medical decisions can be addressed in an advance directive.
Specific treatment aversions
Some individuals have very specific medical wishes because of their personal, ethical or religious beliefs. For example, there are those who feel strongly opposed to transplants and transfusions. There are others who may refuse any treatments that utilize stem cells or that came from research based on stem cells. Clearly indicating if there are treatments and drugs that violate someone’s personal preferences is one very important use of an advance directive.
Guidance for complex care decisions
Often, family members or the person named as an agent in someone’s power of attorney paperwork will need to make not one specific choice but a series of medical decisions about the care that someone needs. How long they remain on life support, how much pain management they receive and what degree of resuscitation efforts they undergo will all depend on the decisions that family members make unless they have very clearly outlined their wishes in an advance directive.
The more thorough someone is in the exploration of their medical preferences, the fewer times family members will have to speak regarding those wishes. Clarity on as many topics as possible will also facilitate better choices regarding treatment that is not specified within the advance directive.
Professional and facility preferences
Perhaps a testator would prefer to receive treatment at a facility associated with their religion. Maybe their primary healthcare concern is that the doctor who has treated them for years for a particular condition will oversee their treatment during their incapacitation. People can provide instructions regarding the facility where they receive treatment beyond emergency care or the professional tasked with coordinating their care while they remain incapacitated. Not only will someone have peace of mind about receiving the right care should an emergency arise, but they can also feel better knowing there will be less pressure on their loved ones in that difficult situation.
Taking the time to put together an advance health care directive can benefit both the person drafting the document and the people who love them the most.