Have you prepared YOUR Advance Health Care Directive?

40685104-signing-contract An Advance Health Care Directive, commonly referred to as an Advance Medical Directive, Living Will, or Power of Attorney for Healthcare is a legal document that every adult should prepare in case the unthinkable happens. Even if you are young and in good health, I strongly recommend you memorialize your decisions prior to a medical emergency. This form documents your wishes for medical care if it is determined that you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself. This form allows you to:

  • Specify that a specific procedure or treatment be provided (i.e. artificially administered hydration {fluids} or nutrition {feeding}.
  • Specify that a specific procedure or treatment be withheld
  • Appoint one person to act as your agent in making health care decisions on your behalf. This includes the decision to make anatomical gifts of a specific part or parts of your body via organ and tissue donation, or donation of all of your body.

Any person whom you appoint has decision-making priority over any other individuals who could, by law, make health care decisions for you. Certain social situations i.e. common law marriage, blended/step families and same sex relationships, may significantly benefit from this advance preparation. Some people with serious or irreversible conditions do not wish CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) if their heart stops. If this is your wish, ask your physician about a DNR Order (Do-Not-Resuscitate Order) or Comfort-Care-Only Order that will also be respected outside of hospitals. This requires your signed consent and physician’s signature. There is an additional step if you want to avoid CPR or other life support when an ambulance (911) is called. You will receive a special identifying bracelet or document that must be visible if you have a medical crisis. If the emergency medical team sees the bracelet or document upon arrival, you will receive all necessary comfort care — but not life support.

This form can be completed without the assistance of an attorney, but you might consider a consultation to ensure that you have completed or amended it correctly. This form should be witnessed, notarized and shared with both your agent and physicians. In fact, the Commonwealth of Virginia has a secure online statewide Advance Health Care Directive Registry (AHCDR) available to all legal Virginia residents. Your documents are stored and are available to those whom you grant access i.e. medical providers, emergency responders, family members, and anyone else who you believe will honor your wishes. An advance directive wallet card is also available and some churches and synagogues keep advance directives on file for members.
Lastly, to those who already have taken action and have the appropriate documents, KEEP THEM CURRENT! Be certain to provide this version to all significant persons. If your old document no longer reflects your wishes, it must be updated. Consider amendments 1) at the start of each decade of your life; 2) after any major life change {birth, marriage, divorce, re-marriage, or death of a loved one}; 3) after any major medical change {diagnosed with a serious disease or terminal illness, or if conditions worsen}; 4) after losing your ability to live independently. This is not a task to be left to your family who will undoubtedly be emotionally unstable during such a situation. Visit https://www.virginiaregistry.org for more information and to download a blank form from the Virginia Department of Health.