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Advance Health Care Directive

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

by Erin McAllister, Paralegal

The process of dying has been found to be prolonged, painful, expensive, and emotionally burdensome to both patients and their families. By thinking ahead and communicating treatment preferences early on, you can prevent arguments and spare those close to you the anxiety of having to guess your wishes. Most important, you will have the opportunity to make very personal health care decisions for yourself. This sentiment has encouraged the creation of health care directives.

An advance health care directive, also known as a living will, is a legal document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity.

An Illinois attorney, Luis Kutner was the first to propose a directive in a law journal in 1969. Because this form of “will” was to be used while an individual was still alive (but no longer able to make decisions) it was dubbed the “living will.” In the United States, The Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA) went into effect in December 1991, and required health care providers (primarily hospitals, nursing homes and home health agencies) to give patients information about their rights to make advance directives under state law. Determining the course of one’s health care proved to be very popular, and by 2007, 41% of Americans had completed at least a living will. In response to public needs, state legislatures soon passed laws in support of advanced health care directives or living wills in virtually every state in the union.

An advance health care directive will name your agent or attorney-in-fact. This is the person you have chosen to carry out your wishes concerning your health care when you are no longer able to communicate your wishes. You may also name alternates to take the place of your first choice should that person be unwilling or unable to serve as your agent. A directive usually provides specific instructions about the course of treatment that is to be followed by health care providers and caregivers. A person might decide to use the Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order if their quality of life is depleted and will not return. Another person might choose to donate their organs. Still another person might want to be part of any clinical or research trials that are ongoing in attempting to find a cure for the disease or condition inflicted upon the patient. In all cases, the health care directive can allow family members or trusted individuals to access the patient’s medical records. It may also be used to express wishes about the use or foregoing of food and water, if supplied via tubes or other medical devices. The health care directive may include information regarding an individual's desire for such services as pain relief, antibiotics, hydration, feeding, and the use of ventilators or resuscitation.

Advanced health care directives have proven to be helpful tools for those individuals that want to have some control over their future health care needs. They can bring peace of mind to the potential patient and his or her family prior to the difficult time that comes with end of life. Family members and trusted individuals can rest assured that the wishes of their loved one is being followed as much as is possible.

This information is made available by Spaulding Law for educational purposes only and not to provide legal advice. By using this website, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Spaulding Law, unless you have entered into a separate representation agreement. This information should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.

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• Take the Pleasant Grove exit 275 from I-15
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