Advance Health Care Directive
Wednesday, 23 March 2016
by Erin McAllister, Paralegal
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.
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