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The Educated Patient: Advanced Directives

Published May 26, 2020

According to the health community, preparation is one way to address medical emergencies. Notably, it is often unforeseen events such as illness, physical or mental disabilities, or even death that causes trepidation. Advanced directives are legal documents that can address such issues to which no one is never too young or old to consider these matters. Many of these documents can be obtained without counsel and provide a recorded self-declaration on how you desire medical treatment in the event you lose your ability to communicate such decisions.

What is an advanced directive? An advanced directive is a legal document that states the types of medical care you would want to receive if you were unable to speak for yourself. There are different kinds of advance directives. For example, a health care proxy often referred to as a power of attorney for health care, is a signed document in which an individual appoints someone to make medical decisions on his or her behalf if the person becomes incapacitated. 

Another type of advance directive is a living will, which permits an individual to direct, in writing, the kind of care to be received if an individual has a severe illness or accident or life-threatening incident. Similarly, a Do Not Resuscitate/Do Not Intubate order (aka DNR/DNI), permits an individual to decide if he or she wants their heart resuscitated, if it stops and precludes the insertion of a breathing tube inserted if breathing ceases.

How do you get an advanced directive? Generally, these forms are available from a health care provider. However, there are many other free resources for an advanced directive – AARP, by state, MedicareCalifornia Office of Attorney General. If executed, copies should be distributed to relevant doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, proxies, and other related healthcare providers. Additionally, each advance directive should be reviewed annually or when circumstance impacts their viability.