Directing your care when you can't
January 11, 2013
Put your choices in writing
Advances in health care treatments and technology are helping people live longer than ever before. As options for life-prolonging treatment increase, so do our choices. That's why it's important to put your choices in writing to ensure your values about your care are followed if you cannot communicate them.
This type of written document is called an advance directive. It expresses your instructions for your care in the event you cannot make your own decisions due to a terminal condition or being permanently unconscious. Advance directives include living wills, documents naming health care surrogates and durable powers of attorney.
A living will is a standing instruction to physicians and others about your wishes for life-prolonging treatments and artificially provided nutrition and hydration, such as a feeding tube.
"Situations covered by a living will can be very challenging for decision makers," said the Rev. Ronald Oliver, system vice president of Mission and Outreach for Norton Healthcare. "A living will helps ensure your values are followed and relieves some of the difficult stress faced by loved ones who, in the absence of a directive, may disagree on what course of treatment to take on your behalf."
A health surrogate is someone you choose to make health decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. This person should be chosen carefully, someone you know well and trust, and be willing to follow the directions you've set forth.
A durable power of attorney names someone similar to a health care surrogate, but it may also include provisions that allow the person you name to make decisions beyond those related to health care, such as personal and financial decisions.
"Once you've created these documents, it's important you tell those close to you that you have done so and where to find them," Oliver said. "Also give a copy to your physicians and others involved in your care. And take one with you each time you enter the hospital or other health care facility for treatment."
Advance directives are legally binding documents that must be honored by phsycians and family members. They can, however, be changed or canceled at any time.
Want to know more?
For a free brochure that explains advance directives in more detail, call (502) 629-1234.